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Military

By USMC Cpl. Cristina Noelia Porras

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Veterans Laid To Rest With Precision and Dignity
(July 11, 2011)

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Marine handing flag to fallen's widowMARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. (July 7, 2011) -- A lone bugler stands in the distance prepared to play Taps as seven Marines in dress blues send a 21-round rifle volley ringing in the air. A crisply folded American flag is presented to a family member mourning the loss of a loved one, signifying the gratitude of a nation.

These are the final honors rendered to service members who die in the line of duty and honorably discharged veterans.

Ensuring the fallen receive the appropriate honors is a task the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego ceremonial platoon takes seriously. Each ceremony involves rigorous preparation on their part, as well as the assistance of other Marines around the depot.

21 gun salute“There's a lot that goes into each funeral; we have to train Marines [who are augmented to the detail], get our rifles from the armory, get in touch with the family, deal with funeral coordinators and hold several rehearsals,” said Cpl. Ryan Johnson, a member of the MCRDSD ceremonial platoon. “We have to make sure everything is organized and precise.”

Additionally, the Marines must ensure their uniforms are squared away. Paying close attention to detail is a vital part of representing the Corps in this capacity.

“We are the last faces of the Marine Corps a lot of these people are going to see -- sometimes we are the only face [of the Marine Corps] they'll see,” said Johnson, who is an infantryman by trade.

Depending on the family's wishes, each funeral can be different. Some families may choose to have Marines escort the casket and in some cases the deceased has been cremated. Whatever their request may be, the ceremonial platoon tries their best to accommodate them.

Lance Cpl M.A. Petty, Drum & Bugle Corps, Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. plays TAPS at Arlington National Cemetery. USMC Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Kent FloraHowever, three elements are mandated by the Department of Defense and must be performed to render honors. Taps must be played by a bugler.

Because of the unique nature of each funeral, the number of Marines needed to execute each ceremony can vary. Since only seven Marines are permanently assigned to the ceremonial platoon, they must augment several Marines from other units aboard MCRD.

The permanently-assigned members ensure those augmented Marines are able to execute all drill movements with the precision the Marine Corps is known for.

“When you go out to ceremonies that involve other branches of service, you can really tell the difference,” said Sgt. Zachary Robbins, the ceremonial platoon non-commissioned officer in charge. “You really notice how the Marine Corps stands out.”

The number of ceremonies the platoon performs varies from week to week. Not only are they responsible for carrying out funeral details, but they also performs several other ceremonial duties both on and off the depot, including: color guard for the MCRDSD morning colors ceremony, graduations and supporting community engagement events.

“Some weeks we'll go without any funerals and some days we'll have three back-to-back,” said Johnson.

Although laying the fallen to rest can be an emotional experience, it is a rewarding job for those Marines assigned to the duty.

“Yeah, sometimes you get a little choked up, but it's an honor and privilege to honor the fallen and their families,” said Cpl. Emmanuel Chavez, a ceremonial platoon NCO.

The majority of their ceremonies involve older veterans, but occasionally they are called upon to render honors to Marines who have died while on active duty.

“It's the younger guys, like the [privates first class], that really hit me,” said Robbins. “It really makes you think about life.”

Marine handing flag to fallen's widowFrom the day a Marine swears to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, they are promised to be taken care of as part of the Marine Corps family, whether they choose to serve for four or 40 years.

The Marines of MCRDSD ceremonial platoon will continue to ensure they reach their final resting place with honor and dignity and their families hear these final words:

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and Corps.”
By USMC Cpl. Cristina Noelia Porras
Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego
Copyright 2011
Poems by David G. Bancroft, USA Patriotism! founder
Honoring The Fallen | Tears For Your Fallen | Don't Weep For Me

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