The U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Paul Woyshner-originated motto “Once a Marine, always a Marine” brings pride and honor to every individual who has earned their Eagle, Globe and Anchor. The spirit of this is embraced by every Marine who performs Military Funeral Honors (MFH) for all Marines laid to rest.
“Every Marine not only rates but deserves to be honored as they are laid to rest,” said Sandy Gee, assistant operations officer for Headquarters and Support Battalion (H&S Bn.). “Our job is to honor our fallen brothers and sisters and to provide them with the most respectful sendoff possible.”
The MFH detail is composed of a total of 43 Marines assigned from H&S Bn. for six months. The detail is broken down into two teams of 20 junior Marines being led by one of three staff non-commissioned officers.
“We have a primary team and an alternate team,” Gee said. “Every month each team rotates as the active team, giving the alternate team time to clean uniforms, attend training and take leave.”
The active team conducts practices three times a week, whereas the alternate team will practice twice a week. In the event that the MFH detail is tasked with three funerals, both teams have to be ready at a moment’s notice.
“One of the hardest things to do is maintain discipline,” said Staff Sgt. Freddie White, one of the staff non-commissioned officer leaders for MFH. “That includes having professionalism, compassion and military bearing to honor each Marine.”
Marines put hours of practice into conducting MFH, from folding the flag properly to present to the next of kin (NOK) to the playing of “Taps.” No amount of practice is enough for the total professionalism that needs to be displayed during a ceremony.
“I always have different thoughts during a funeral,” White said. “I always try to sympathize with the NOK or think about what that Marine did. The Marine who served honorably deserves to have a proper funeral. If we can do that for them now, then maybe we will have our own honorable funeral as well.”
When MFH are performed, it is important to make sure that every part of the ceremony is orchestrated properly. For many families, this funeral ceremony could be the last personal encounter with the Marine Corps.
“Funerals are the worst time for families, as they have to say good-bye to their loved ones,” Gee said. “All Marines on the funeral team take pride in their role as military funeral honor team members. We are representing the Marine Corps, H&S Bn. and ourselves as Marines when we conduct honors for each and every family.”
MFH detail conducts the ceremonies at Coastal Carolina State Veterans Cemetery, but can also conduct ceremonies at funeral homes and on occasion, at a family member’s home. The MFH detail is also tasked with providing 21-Gun Salutes for other ceremonies such as the Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremony.
“Being on the funeral detail is a hard task to be given,” Gee said. “[Each Marine] will have to give a lot of time for training and conducting funerals, sometimes while other Marines and their families are enjoying time off during holidays.”
With a mission to conduct military funeral honors for all veterans and their service members, Marines take pride and honor into the hard work that is put into training.
“Every ceremony conducted is done so with the utmost professionalism, compassion and pride,” Gee said. “This is a testament to our Marine Corps values (of) Honor, Courage, and Commitment.”
The MFH detail will always be a privilege to show the respect that has been earned by each Marine in the last moments with their loved ones. “Once a Marine, always a Marine” is the reason why we will always be proud to claim the title of United States Marine.