Here's why we were all confused about what military honors are offered at ANC

Elizabeth Howe
February 11, 2019 - 11:30 am

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Fraser

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We were all a little surprised to hear about the bill introduced last week proposing that all Medal of Honor recipients and Prisoners of War receive full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery funerals — because we assumed that's something they already did. 

Turns out it is something Arlington National Cemetery already does — but only as of Jan. 11, 2019. 

The cemetery's website was updated to include "full military honors" for Medal of Honor recipients shortly before the bill was introduced, Barbara Lewandrowski, director of public affairs at Arlington National Cemetery, told Task & Purpose. The change was made quietly — so quietly that members of Congress didn't realize they were introducing a bill to make changes, some of which had already been made.

While MOH recipients are eligible Prisoners of War currently are not. 

Why not? 

Here's how the tier system for "full military honors" breaks down at Arlington National Cemetery: 

Enlisted service members, WO-1 through CW-3, and O-1 through O-3 will receive military funeral honors provided by the decedent's branch of service. These honors include a casket team, a firing party, a bugler, and a folding of the colors. Military funeral honors with escort is what is being addressed by the recent bill. 

Currently, E-9, CW-4 and CW-5, O-4 and above, Medal of Honor recipients, and those killed in action may receive military funeral honors with an escort. This includes a casket team, a firing party, a bugler, folding of the colors, an escort element that varies by size according to rank of the deceased, and a military band.

Again, Medal of Honor recipients were only recently added to this list.

So why the changes? A big factor is wait times.

Currently, Prisoners of War wait between two weeks to a month for a funeral service with military honors. For a funeral with military honors with escort, that wait would become eight or nine months — because military honors with escort involve as many as 70 personnel, and the cemetery simply does not have the resources to have more than eight of those ceremonies a day.

These waits, from the perspective of administration at Arlington National Cemetery, have the potential to deny families closure. So while the introduced bill may have good intentions, Arlington National Cemetery is acting with their own good intentions in mind.

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