Apr 21, 2021
Earlier this month, the Funeral Service Foundation and ICCFA Educational Foundation announced a new joint collaboration. Journey to Serve is an initiative aimed at recruiting veterans for employment throughout the deathcare profession. The announcement made us think about all of the different ways the funeral service community supports and champions our nation’s servicemen and women. We challenge you find another profession that does more to honor and celebrate America’s military forces.
In my capacity as ASD’s Public Relations Specialist, I have probably read more articles related to the funeral profession than any other person on the planet. I cannot even tell you how many articles I have read over the years about funeral directors going above and beyond to support our armed forces or to honor deceased veterans, no matter how many years have passed since their death. From making a plea to the public to attend a funeral for a veteran who died without family to creating powerful displays that honor American troops, these stories underscore the longstanding commitment funeral professionals have to our military members.
In addition to the individual efforts of funeral directors, funeral home associations have been instrumental in creating employment opportunities for veterans within the deathcare profession and advocating on their behalf before congress. One of the most moving moments I have been a witness to during my career here at ASD was during the 2016 NFDA Advocacy Summit in Washington D.C. The event brought together morticians from all over the country to communicate with lawmakers about important issues affecting the families they serve. At the summit, funeral professionals were advocating for more veterans to receive military death benefits. The NFDA provided an overabundance of helpful resources to aid funeral directors in their efforts.
After two days of attendees trekking from one office to the next, dealing with the constant downpours occurring that week, the event concluded with a trip to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The thing I will always remember is how despite the rain falling hard from the sky, all of those funeral professionals in attendance stood firmly in silent respect through the Wreath Laying and Changing of the Guard ceremonies. The reverence they demonstrated in that moment has always remained with me as a reminder of why I love being a part of the funeral service community. It is gratifying to have an opportunity to document these moments and call attention to the many ways funeral directors devote themselves to helping others, especially those who serve our country.
The stories below highlight some of the powerful and impactful ways deathcare professionals support our nation’s servicemen and women.
1. Honoring Veterans Who Pass Without Family
One of the ways our nation pays tribute to the sacrifices of our brave military is through the funeral rites given exclusively to deceased veterans. The firing of the three-volley salute, flag folding ceremony and playing of taps are time-honored rituals used to place emphasis on the fact that a person who honorably served their country is being laid to rest. So, when a veteran passes away without any living family member there to ensure the proper funeral rites take place, funeral directors step in to guarantee these traditions are still carried out. However, many have gone far beyond this, taking it upon themselves to make certain no military man or woman is ever buried alone.
The video above tells the story of an intern working at Brown Funeral Homein Niles, MI who was tasked with planning a funeral for a gentleman named Wayne Wilson who had no immediate family. When the intern learned from Wilson’s friends that he had fought in Vietnam, he put out a plea to the public asking them to help give the veteran the fitting farewell he deserved. The intern’s efforts brought 3,000 people who never met Wilson to the funeral service.
As incredible as this story is, it is not the first time and will not be the last time a funeral professional mobilizes the public to ensure a veteran receives a proper tribute. Below are just some of the many examples we found:
While the pandemic may have put a temporary halt on funeral homes and cemeteries being able to host large groups of mourners, I know once things normalize, these types of stories will occupy my newsfeed once again.
2. Collecting Donations for Service Members Overseas
Watson-Thomas Funeral Home in Galesburg, IL holds a Stockings for Soldiers donation drive every year.
For many years, funeral homes across the country have held donation drives for troops serving overseas. Their efforts have helped countless military members feel closer to home. What’s more, these funeral homes will often gather donations multiple times a year, collecting Christmas stockings and Valentine’s Day cards to make holidays extra special for those who are serving. These donation drives bring happiness to deployed service personnel while inspiring generosity and goodwill within the community.
Funeral Director, Dan Madden of Stark Memorial Funeral Home in Salem, OH proudly displays the Valentine’s Day cards his community created for service members overseas and veterans in local veteran hospitals.
3. Holding Military Recognition Events
A Memorial Day Tribute held last year by Resthaven-Sunset Memorial Parks and Trout Funeral Homes in Oklahoma.
One of the most crucial lessons learned from America’s conflict in Vietnam was how essential it is to celebrate and honor those that put their lives on the line in service to their country. It is a terrible tragedy that so many Vietnam veterans were treated with contempt and derision upon returning home. Thankfully, our society has worked to right this wrong by holding military recognition events that properly honor the courage and sacrifice of all who serve. One of the many ways deathcare professionals support vets in their local area is by holding recognition ceremonies, parades, holiday programs and other veteran appreciation events. Funeral directors are often highly involved with their local V.F.W and other military associations as it gives them an opportunity to express their gratitude for those who protect our freedoms.
Colonial Funeral Home in Pocatello, ID hosted a “Salute and Celebrate” breakfast for veterans at their funeral home.
4. Giving Lost or Unclaimed Vets a Proper Send Off
It is a sad situation that occurs more often than one might think. A veteran passes but never receives a proper burial, either because their remains were not recovered or because they were never claimed by a family member. Years pass and then someone discovers a hero who was left behind. It is then when a funeral director will often volunteer to help, donating his or her time and resources to ensure the vet receives a proper burial with full military honors. In some cases, this involves handling the logistics of bringing a service member home who died overseas, sometimes many decades ago, and was unable to return with their unit. Other cases involve the discovery of unclaimed cremated remains, which has led some deathcare professionals to put on their detective hats in an effort to track down the veteran’s descendants. If none can be found, they will often work with organizations like the Missing in America Recovery Project to guarantee the serviceman or woman is properly honored.
Roswell Funeral Home in Roswell, GA worked with the Missing in America Recovery Project to hold a military service for seven WWII veterans whose remains were never claimed.
5. Advocating on Behalf of Veterans to Lawmakers
Funeral professionals have an active voice within the walls of the federal government through the advocacy efforts of the National Funeral Directors Association. Lesley Witter, Senior Vice President of Advocacy, has led the charge in representing the interests of the funeral service community in Washington D.C. and helping to ensure the issues they care about are given priority attention by lawmakers. One of these issues is improving funeral and burial benefits for veterans and their families.
For years, funeral directors have met with lawmakers to advocate on behalf of military families. Their efforts have had a meaningful impact. At the beginning of 2021, the BRAVE Act was signed into law after many months of lobbying from funeral directors. This important piece of legislature updates the statute so that all non-service connected deaths are treated equally and veterans receive the same benefits regardless of where they pass away.
In this NFDA podcast, Leslie Witter discusses the recent passage of the BRAVE Act and its impact on funeral professionals and veterans.
“I am very proud of NFDA members and others in the funeral profession who advocated for this important legislation,” said Christine Pepper, CAE, CEO of NFDA. “Passing legislation in Congress is not easy considering that only about 1% of the bills introduced in the 116th Congress were enacted into law. Nevertheless, our members have been coming to our Advocacy Summit each year in Washington, D.C., and walking the halls of Congress to help get this important bill passed for our veterans.”
6. Supporting the New Journey to Serve Initiative
At the beginning of spring, the Funeral Service Foundation and ICCFA Education Foundation announced they would be collaborating on a new joint project aimed at recruiting military veterans into careers throughout the funeral service profession. Funded equally by both foundations, and endorsed by ICCFA and NFDA, the Journey to Serve initiative “features tools and resources to aid in veteran recruitment on a local, regional and national scale, available at JourneyToServe.com.” The new initiative will officially kick off on April 22nd with a free virtual event to unveil a toolkit of helpful resources. Click here to learn more or to register.
7. Offering Free Caskets to Veterans
J. Allen Hooper Funeral Home in Morrisville, PA offers a free casket to every deceased veteran whose funeral services and viewing are entrusted to their care.
The appreciation and gratitude morticians have for veterans shapes how many funeral home owners choose to run their business. In fact, some mortuaries are so invested in their relationship with vets in their community that they will provide services or funeral merchandise such as caskets and urns to veteran families absolutely free. The generosity of these funeral homes and their willingness to give back to our nation’s heroes is truly incredible.
Dickey Funeral and Cremation Services in Laredo, TX allows veteran families to choose a free casket, rental casket or urn.
8. Creating Powerful Displays to Honor Service Members
During a veteran’s funeral service, the directors at Wright & Ford Funeral Home in Flemington, NJ changed their porch lights to red and blue.
There is a reason why in America we fly the flag at half-staff during a period of mourning. Visual symbols of remembrance and love can have a powerful impact on those who view them. Many funeral professionals have endeavored to create spaces inside or outside their mortuary chapel that pay tribute to the sacrifices made by military veterans. These symbolic displays serve as evocative reminders for all who enter the funeral home to take time to appreciate those who protect our freedoms.
The Veterans Memorial Wall on display at Kevin M. Lyons Funeral Service in Glenolden, PA
9. Helping Veterans in the Local Community
Lakeside Memorial Funeral Home in Buffalo, NY held a toy donation drive for veteran families in the local area.
“Remake the world, a little at a time. Each in your own corner of the world.”
This quote from author Rick Riordan really captures the mission of so many deathcare professionals. Understanding the influence they have to effect change on a local level, many funeral directors seek out ways they can help those in their own backyard. This includes building relationships with the local veteran community and determining what some of the unmet needs are of those individuals. Maybe its hosting a dinner for the VFW, offering a donation drive for veteran families or helping vets to connect with one another. Funeral directors are passionate about giving our servicemen and women the recognition they deserve when they return to their hometowns. We were especially moved by the example below of a funeral home purchasing van specifically for veterans so they never have to miss a funeral for one of their own.
A van donated by Roselawn Funeral Home in Princeton, WV to help veterans in their local area attend funeral services for fellow veterans.
10. Offering a Flag Retirement Program
The American flag is a revered symbol of freedom and liberty. However, most people are unsure what they should do when a flag becomes weathered or torn. The Veterans Flag Retirement Program provides a solution to this dilemma while honoring veterans. Funeral homes that participate in the program ensure each veteran who is entrusted to their care for cremation is done so with a donated worn or tattered flag, ensuring unusable flags are properly disposed of while honoring a hero. Funeral homes will welcome anyone in their community to drop off worn and tattered flags to be used for this purpose. It is just another example of funeral homes going that extra mile to salute our nation’s veterans.
11. Coordinating Wreaths Across America Events
Doolittle Funeral Home in Middletown, CT supports Wreaths Across America every year.
Wreaths Across America is a national campaign to remember and honor veterans by laying wreaths on their gravesites during the holiday season. Every year, Wreaths Across America volunteers lay hundreds of thousands of memorial wreaths. The organization works to find local support in different areas and coordinate wreath-laying ceremonies at veteran cemeteries nationwide. Many funeral homes have gotten involved with these efforts, coordinating donation and volunteer efforts in their local area. This is a wonderful way to encourage the entire community to remember and honor veterans that have served our country.
Which one of these examples inspired you the most? What are some of the ways your funeral home honors military veterans? Please share with us in the comments below!
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com