Sorrow, sadness and grief are among the most common feelings associated with funeral services. But for Marines, a service honoring the life of a fellow leatherneck may also invoke feelings of pride, commitment and honor.
Military funeral honors are the final ceremonial demonstration of gratitude to those who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended their nation, from their compatriots and brothers in arms.
Traditionally, participation in a funeral detail gives a great deal of pride and honor to any Marine. The Marine Corps Reserve undertakes the solemn duty of supporting funeral honors for the vast majority of Marine Corps veterans. In 2016 Marine Corps Reserve units and personnel performed more than 19,000 military funeral honors, representing 91 percent of all funeral honors rendered by the Marine Corps that year. Amongst many, one Marine stands out for his devotion and dedication to giving his fellow Marines one final salute.
Staff Sgt. Brian P. Spittler, a team chief with 4th Civil Affairs Group, Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve, has participated in nearly 200 funeral details since the beginning his of career in 2006.
December 27, 2017 - Staff Sgt. Brian P. Spittler, a team chief with 4th Civil Affairs Group, Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve with his bugle at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after he and other Marines performed military funeral honors at the ceremony of Master Sgt. Catherine G. Murray, who was the first female Marine to join the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Melany Vasquez)
“Funeral ceremonies mean a lot to me, to the family and to the community,” says Spittler. “It is an emotional experience and it never really gets old to me.”
Part of his motivation and incentive to perform, to the very best of his ability, is driven by the fact that quite often, the families of the Marines being honored don’t have a lot of involvement with the Marine Corps or the military. Sometimes, they have never had the opportunity to see a military ceremony before. With Marine Corps Reserve units located across the country, Reserve Marines are uniquely positioned to interact with veteran families. The funeral ceremony is an opportunity to develop the relationship between the Marine Corps, families and the community; Spittler wants to make it meaningful and give them a good impression.
“It feels good to know that you are doing something good for those families,” he says with a wisp of satisfaction in his voice. “I am definitely proud to be a part of it, but at the same time I am humbled and I am there to serve the Marine and their family. For me that means a lot.”
The proud Marine explains that there is a commitment present in Marines to paying tribute to their fallen brothers and sisters-in-arms.
“I am proud to be a part of the ceremony in which we are finally laying a Marine to rest,” says Spittler.
Military Funeral Honors can include but is not limited to: a military chaplain, to address family members and friends of the fallen service member, an American flag draped over the casket, and a funeral detail serving as honor guards to execute the ceremony. Traditionally, the funeral detail will act as pallbearers, fold the flag, present it to the next of kin, fire a three-volley salute and play taps, while rendering a last salute of respect to the deceased.
Staff Sgt. Spittler was a lance corporal when he participated in his first funeral detail, back in 2010.
“I was ‘voluntold’ for it,” he says with nostalgia and humor. “They needed a Marine for the detail, and I just so happened to have my dress blue uniform on hand, so my sergeant told me: ‘Hey Marine get ready, you will be in a funeral detail’. All I could say was “aye aye, sergeant!”
During his first funeral detail, Spittler was one of the riflemen to execute the three-shot volley. At first, the ceremony didn’t hold any significance for him and he wasn’t interested in participating in future funerals.
“I was away from the ceremony and I couldn’t really see the family or what was going on,” he says.
December 27, 2017 - Staff Sgt. Brian P. Spittler, a team chief with 4th Civil Affairs Group, Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve, plays his bugle at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Marines provided military funeral honors at the ceremony of Master Sgt. Catherine G. Murray, who was the first female Marine to join the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Melany Vasquez)
Spittler continued to be tasked out by his superiors to participate in funeral ceremonies as was needed. His disinterest in the ceremonies endured until Spittler was, for the very first time, assigned to be one of the Marines who would fold the flag. This time he would be up and close to the ceremony, the family and the fallen Marine. That day, his view and opinions on funeral details drastically changed.
“It was the first time I folded the flag in front of the family,” says Spittler. “I was so moved by that experience that when they asked for someone to participate in a detail, I volunteered for it; and I did it again, and again and again.”
From that point forward, the young Marine became increasingly involved in funeral details.
He recollects that as a corporal, being in charge of certain aspects of funeral details and having to meet such a high level of proficiency and discipline allowed him to exercise and hone his leadership skills.
Keeping Tradition Alive
Spittler also values the numerous encounters he’s had with Marine veterans.
“I have met Marines of all generations,” says Spittler. “Before I started doing these funerals, I had only worked with Marines within my generation. But when I started doing these funerals, I started working with a lot of other organizations, such as the American Legion and the American Veterans Organizations. I have even met veterans from Korea, Vietnam and WWII, of which there aren’t many left.”
Spittler explains that throughout his career as a Reserve Marine, he has always been ready and willing to help his command. Participating in funeral details and other volunteer based programs such as Toys for Tots, is the best way he has found to do it.
Sometimes, Reserve Marines have the opportunity to participate in Marine Corps events and ceremonies outside their scheduled drill periods. Marines who are involved in official events requested by their command, can earn points towards retirement. Their actions are also noted and considered favorably by their command for promotions and awards.
Spittler is now a staff sergeant with a bright and promising future in the Marine Corps. The motivated Marine continues to volunteer his time participating in Marine Corps events and ceremonies and mentoring junior Marines to do the same.
By U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Ian Ferro
Provided through DVIDS
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