Military funeral services still available to veterans

Published 5:00 am Monday, July 10, 2006

With great solemnity, members of Biloxi’s Keesler Air Force BaseHonor Guard paid tribute to the life and service of a Wesson manSaturday as family and friends gathered to pay their respects.

“His life and his whole demeanor was built around the military,and it was only appropriate that at this passing the military washere,” said Richard Brouse, of Austin, Texas, following the funeralservice for his father, John Harold Brouse, at Zion Hill BaptistChurch Saturday.

John Harold Brouse died July 4, 2006, at the VeteransAdministration Medical Center in Jackson. He was a retired mastersergeant with the Air Force who served for 22 years and fought intwo wars.

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“I was proud of and for my father today. It was exactly as hewould have wanted his passing to be,” Richard Brouse said. “Thehonor guard did an outstanding job of showing the military’srespect for the service to his country that (my father) rendered.I’m thankful of that. The ceremony meant a lot to us.”

Elroy Winding, state military funeral coordinator, said,however, that many military veterans miss out on the government’sfinal salute to their service because family members may not beaware of free funeral honors.

He said the rendering of military funeral honors is a way toshow the nation’s deep gratitude to those, in times of war andpeace, who have faithfully defended the country.

“This ceremonial paying of respect is the final demonstration agrateful nation can provide to a veteran’s family,” he said.

According to statistics provided by Winding, Mississippi losesbetween 100 to 200 of its more than 200,000 veterans per month. Healso predicts that more than 6,100 Mississippi veterans will die bythe end of 2008.

The Mississippi Honors’ Guard Team rendered funeral honors tomore than 600 veterans last year, but Winding said the numbershould have been higher.

“I feel we are missing a lot of veterans’ services,” hesaid.

The rendering of military funeral honors is a free service, butmust be requested by the family, Winding said.

The honor guard detail, at a minimum, performs a brief ceremonyduring funeral services that includes the folding and presentationof the American flag to the next of kin and the playing oftaps.

Under the law authorizing the services, the honor guard detailmust consist of no less than two members of the armed forces. Onemember of the detail will be a representative of the parent serviceof the deceased veteran whenever possible, Winding said.

“In some cases, that’s not possible because of time anddistance, but we get real good cooperation from the variousservices to try to meet that requirement,” he said.

Winding said the law recognizes any active duty service membersand former members of the armed forces who were dischargedhonorably as veterans as eligible for the funeral honors.

The Military Funeral Honors Program requires supportingdocuments to verify the person’s eligibility, he said. Thosedocuments could include the deceased’s discharge papers or anyother military documents, such as a disability check.

However, Winding said it is frequently difficult for manyfamilies to lay their hands on those documents while grieving andthe program makes allowances.

“Here in Mississippi, we would rather do a service for someonewho didn’t deserve it than to not do one and find out later theydid,” he said.

Winding said he often accepts pictures of the deceased inuniform, dog tags or other personal items as proof of service.

The state military honors coordinator said he fears manyfamilies decide not to take advantage of the program because oftiming – believing there is not enough time between the death andthe service for the honor guard to react.

“It’s never too short a notice,” Winding said. “We always havehonor guards available.”

Richard Brouse said he was impressed with the ease of theprocess and how quickly it was organized.

“It was actually very easy,” he said. “The funeral home made therequest and we had a response the next day that a full honor guardwould be present.”

The Air Force honor guard was dispatched from Keesler Air ForceBase in Biloxi to perform the honors, said Senior Airman TriandosCarter, noncommissioned officer in charge of the detail.