Full Honors Funeral Services

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Caisson and Riderless horse

  • Guests on the Arlington National Cemetery guided tram tour are usually surprised to find that the Cemetery conducts up to thirty funerals each day of the week. After witnessing the band, horses and procession of cars, visitors frequently ask “Do all funerals get that?”

    The answer is no. There are two types of funeral honors at the cemetery; full honors and standard honors. A standard honors funeral is for any enlisted service member. Standard honors include casket team (body bearers / pall bearers), a firing party, and a bugler. Full honors funerals are for commissioned officers, warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers (pay grade E-9). Full honors includes an escort platoon (size varies according to the rank of the deceased) and a military band. Normally, the deceased service member’s branch of service is responsible for carrying out the military honors at the funeral. Those eligible for full military honors may also use the caisson if it is available.

    The Third Infantry Regiment United States Army, more commonly known as the Old Guard, is always responsible for caisson. Caisson is a horse drawn wagon or cart. The two caissons used at the Cemetery are from the WWI time period circa 1918-1919. Originally the caisson was used to bring artillery onto the battlefield. Once the artillery was off-loaded, the caisson was loaded with bodies of fallen service members. The wagon is pulled by six horses, but there are only three riders. The Old Guard service members only ride the horses on the left side because the horses on right side were originally used to take supplies onto the battlefield.

    Officers with a rank of colonel or above in the Army and the Marine Corps may have a caparisoned (riderless) horse, if available. The riderless horse follows behind the caisson and is guided by an Old Guard service member. The horse wears an empty saddle with the boots in the stirrups backwards to signify the last ride of the officer.

    The Arlington National Cemetery guided tram tour works very hard to avoid funeral services out of respect for the family and friends laying their loved ones to rest. Although during the week it is very likely that you will see a funeral. The cemetery requests that you do not take photographs of funeral processions, but instead take a moment to remember the service and sacrifices of our military.

    Amanda Varnam
    Arlington National Cemetery
    Narrator, driver, trainer and dispatcher.