By Mr. Stephen Standifird (Leonard Wood)January 21, 2016
A United States flag drapes the casket of deceased Navy and Marine Corps veterans to honor their service to the country.
The ceremonial folding and presentation of the flag is the final tribute to the veteran's Family. Fort Leonard Wood Marines and Sailors play a vital role in providing this tribute for their sea-service veterans in Missouri.
The Navy Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Detachment and Marine Corps Detachment on Fort Leonard Wood both have funeral details that provide this service at the request of the veteran's Family. This can be a difficult task given the number of staff, mission requirements and training schedules.
The traditional farewell for veterans of the United Sates military is an honor guard present at their funeral to play taps, and fold and present the American flag to the designated relative. When personnel are available, additional services could include a rifle detail, a color guard and pallbearers.
It is a service Marine Staff Sgt. Joseph Rodriguez, Marine Corps Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School instructor, is proud to be a part of.
"We provide these Family members with the time-honored tradition of being able to get that flag and the respect that service member has earned," Rodriguez, the Marine Corps Detachment funeral coordinator, said.
The detachments traditionally provide two people to fold and present the American flag. Veteran service organizations often provide the rest.
However, the Marine Corps Detachment is sometimes tasked with providing additional Marines for pallbearers and a firing detail.
"When it's full honors, we need 18 or 19 Marines to show up," Rodriguez said. "It can be taxing, when we get Marines who have never done a funeral before."
In 2015, both the Navy and Marine Corps detachments provided funeral honors to more than 100 veterans across Missouri. Both units sometimes travel quite a distance.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeff Hudson, construction mechanic and funeral coordinator for the Navy, said they cover 10 counties in Missouri and, on average, travel two hours from Fort Leonard Wood. They have provided services as far away as Jefferson City and Springfield.
When Hudson was put in charge of the funeral detail as an additional duty, there wasn't much organization, he said. So he took it on as a personal project to make sure the program runs smoothly.
"We have literally put our heart and soul in to developing what is the best product for the Family," he said.
Hudson worked out a rotation where two Sailors are on call monthly. Those Sailors are required to ensure their uniforms are ready and they have practiced together before heading out to a funeral.
Similar to Hudson, Rodriguez has worked with the Marines to help them understand how important this service is to the Families.
"I think it's important, that when these Marine's Family members are there, they see that the Marine Corps still looks at it as 'Once a Marine, Always a Marine.' We are presenting that flag to them and telling them we are thankful for their time they served with us," he said.
Rodriguez isn't always able to hold a regular practice, but ensures the Marines tasked get the chance to practice before departing Fort Leonard Wood for the funeral.
Circumstances often lead to last-minute requests for a detail, but that does not stop Navy Petty Officer 1st Class James Shipman, Heavy Equipment Operator Course instructor, from volunteering when he can.
"I'm doing it because I want to do it," Shipman said. "I'm giving back, and I take pride in that."
The Marine Corps Detachment on Fort Leonard Wood is the largest detachment of Marines not on a Marine Corps installation with a staff of 300 Marines. The Navy detachment is small by comparison, with only 33 Sailors on staff.