Photos (4) View All

When the time comes to lay a veteran to rest, if you're like we were, you want the very best.

One of the things we discovered is how to make a military funeral, be all that it can be.

We've planned too many funerals and it's usually the same thing, pick the casket, the songs, get the preacher and crunch the numbers.

When it came to song selections, we knew that we had to have the sound guys play, "The U.S. Air Force" (the official Air Force song.)

We knew we had to do all of that again for our Aunt Kathy, who didn't brag about her rank as a Lt. Colonel when she was alive, and probably because we're just dumb civilians, we had no idea how high she was on the totem pole.

As we drove home from SAMMC, San Antonio Military Medical Center, besides feeling better about our country after having been there and seeing all the young men and women there, we remembered the many salutes she received, and we wanted to send her out with a final salute that fit her.

But, we had no idea what to do to make it special.

We knew that usually there are taps and a 21 gun salute, but other than that, what can you do to make it special?

As we sat down with Frank VanSteenhuyse, our Funeral Director, we started asking questions.

"Is there ANYTHING else we can do to make this more military?"

"There is a casket they are making now that has the military logo as well as military buttons on the cloth lining," he told us.

We didn't even hesitate, we knew she'd love that!

When we walked into the display room with the caskets there on the floor was the vault that had a flag, the military emblem, an eagle it just screamed, "Veteran!"

That soon became a must have for our funeral, but we weren't sure it would arrive in time, so we went with plain vault. Much to our surprise, it arrived on time and we saw it as we arrived at the cemetery, it was the star of the show. 

We had a friend that was himself a former Marine and we asked him to speak for the service, but if you don't have a friend that fits that description and you really want a someone that fits the bill, you can contact the local legion or the recruiting center which is in Cedar Rapids, and they might be able to help you out.

Now the funeral in San Antonio had the "drive-through funeral" feeling to it. You know the kind that tells you, "We need the room in an hour, can you clear out for the next family?"

We didn't want that at home.

We wanted people to be able to relax, enjoy and to "feel" patriotic like she did.

Frank said, "There is the Patriot Guard."

Hmmm, "What's the Patriot Guard?" we asked.

The Patriot Guard is made up mostly of retired military folks that, on days like Kathy's funeral will stand outside and quietly stand guard while holding an American flag.

It doesn't sound like a big deal, but when you have a dozen or so military folks there, quietly standing guard, you start to stand a little taller and just pretend like you are as good as they are in your lowly civilian life.

Fortunately for us, they had a group that also put a row of beautiful flags along the parking lot.

We took a look around and in the group that came, there were folks from 9 different counties represented.

Included was a gentleman had a lovely truck decorated with the  American flag as well as an Air Force flag that he mounted on the back to lead us to the cemetery.

The Patriot Guard is made up of volunteers alone. They don't ask for a donation, and when they were done, they gave us a plaque of appreciation for Kathy's service.

This group is nothing but class.

As we asked again, "What ELSE can we do?"

I could almost see Frank stand a bit taller and smile a bit bigger as he said, "We can request the Air Force."

What??? THE Air Force? we asked as if there's "another"  Air Force.

He smiled and said that we could.

We said, "Definitely!"

So, of course, he explained, that if they can come, weather permitting and I suppose if there were other responsibilities, they will come to the gravesite...and they came.

We had some discussion about her rank and because of that, she would probably have someone there if they could make it.

The Air Force did arrive along with one sailor in the group, but we didn't care.

We had 6, freezing men and one woman, in uniform who carried Kathy to her final resting place.

They played taps and did the gun salute.

Then they folded the flag and presented it to Dean, and expressed their condolences to us.

Now from the time you are in Elementary school, or at least we used to, we learned how to fold the flag. You THINK you know how to do it. Did you know that when it's folded correctly NONE of the red should be showing? I didn't know that either.

During the ceremony, as they folded the flag and finished, there was a bit of the red showing, so one of the young military men apologized and asked if they could refold the flag.

He and another fellow took the time to properly fold the flag a second time, and returned it to us, properly and tightly folded.

Now if you're in luck like we were, you might get an eagle to fly over (That's NOT included in the funeral package!) but as we arrived we had one take flight from among the bushes, which seemed a bit fitting and just a bit more of that ahhhh factor was added.

In all those details, don't forget, you'll need your loved ones DD214, if you don't know where it is, ask some questions.  This will assure that your loved one will have a headstone or nameplate attached to their headstone paid for with their service to the country.

Now there are also some things you should do after the funeral.

If your loved one has a military ID card, this should be surrendered back to a base. There is a National Guard base near Iowa City,  just off of 380 where you can drop it off.

If your loved one is receiving a pension from the military, remember to fill out the form for their final pay.

There is also a form you can fill out that will cover reimbursement for transportation of your loved one to the funeral home.

In all the planning for our loved one, I am looking at the pictures and just noticed something else that Frank did. I see that he flew a flag at the cemetery on the corner of our tent something I hadn't noticed in all of the emotions of the day.

I noticed that Frank also added an Air Force decal to the hearse, and with all of those little touches, we are STILL feeling "good" about this funeral. I know it might sound odd, but after a year of battling cancer, and crying at our loved one's bedside, we wanted to hold a funeral that would make our little military gal proud.

I might be a little biased, but after helping to plan 6 funerals over the years, this one was by far the one that made us feel proud of, as well as remember almost a year later and feel proud to have been part of.


Just a side note:

This has been sitting on the back end of the website for almost a year now and updated a bit.

Another thing we did that was not military related:

Because our aunt was a nurse, we found out that there was an organization that provides a  "Nightengale Tribute" for nurses.

For more information about this service here is a link.

We had two ladies who came to the service, in the traditional cap and cape uniform from decades ago. They read the Nightengale poem and gave a little lamp to the family as a reminder of her service.

Sure the topic of funeral planning might sound a bit morbid, but I can tell you now that a year later, the memory of this service still puts a smile on my face. 

I should also mention, we had many talks about what she wanted. The cost had been taken care of and so all we had to do was add the special touches. 

A note to families, have the talk. Sit down and find out what matters to them. It makes all the planning in a stressful time, so much easier.

Submit a Comment

Please refresh the page to leave Comment.

Still seeing this message? Presh Ctrl + F5 to do a "Hard Refresh".

Comments (0)

To receive each day's headlines to your inbox sign up for our email updates.