I had the honor of photographing a military graveside service on October 20th. This was definitely a first for me. The members of the American Legion asked if I would document the service for them and I was pleased to do it, although a little nervous.
I arrived at the cemetery, which was surrounded by yellow and orange trees against a beautiful sky. An American flag rustled in the breeze and I immediately noticed the members of the US Marine Corps near the back of the cemetery preparing for their part in the service. Two service members were standing guard at the gravesite awaiting the hearse.
When it arrived, members of the American Legion proceeded to bring in the flag-draped casket and the service began. According to protocol, the flag must be placed over the casket with the blue field of the flag at the head of the casket, over the shoulder of the deceased.
After words from the minister, the firing of the guns began. Seven service members lined in perfect formation and each fired three volleys. This tradition goes back to a battlefield custom. When a soldier fell during battle, there would be a cease in fighting. Once the shots were fired it meant that the deceased had been properly cared for and the fighting could resume.
Following that, an American Legion member began playing “Taps”. This song was written in 1862 during the Civil War and was officially recognized by the US Army in 1874. I always get cold chills when I hear this and this day was no exception.
Finally came the folding and presenting of the flag. I was amazed at how perfectly every detail was executed and I was very impressed by how the military handles the tradition of laying one of their own to rest. The officers moved in perfect, careful formation with every step and turn. I noticed at that point that I had cold chills again and not just from the chilly breeze that was blowing.
As I said, I was honored to have attended this service and to have taken pictures to document this tradition of laying heroes to rest. It made me proud to be an American…and a photographer.