MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. -- The first to arrive at the burial site, a team of seven riflemen, one bugler, a senior Marine to call commands and another to present the flag to the family, straighten out their dress blue uniforms. They always get to Miramar National Cemetery, Calif., more than an hour before the scheduled ceremony to practice again what they have spent hours rehearsing during the week.
Marines of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar honor guard are a direct reflection of their name; they guard the honor of the Marine Corps by laying fellow service members to rest with dignity and respect. As keepers of the highest standards and traditions of the Marine Corps, the air station’s honor guard provides burial services for departed Marines in the San Diego County area.
A sleek black caravan pulls into the burial site. The silence of the scene is broken by the snap and pop of the Marines coming to attention and the riflemen presenting their M-16s in a show of respect for their comrades.
The Marines are prepared to receive either a flag-draped casket or an urn, and know the proper procedure for either circumstance. Once the remains have been marched up to the viewing site, the Marines return to their posts and fade into the background until the end of the eulogy.
Then, the mourners turn to their attention back on the Marines in their dress blues. To a senior’s commands, the riflemen execute a crisp facing movement, look at the sky, and fire off the three shots. Each round cracks through the silence as a singular, unified sound, followed by the bugler’s somber rendition of “Taps.”
After thirteen purposeful folds, the American flag becomes a neat triangle handled reverently by the Marines. Before presenting it to the family, the senior Marine places three rounds into the folded flag, symbolizing the volley.
After retrieving their rifles, the detail silently marches off and never looks back, not expecting a single “thank you” for performing what they feel is their solemn and proud duty.
“I think that as Marines, this is the least that we can do for a fellow brother or sister-in-arms,” said Sgt. Aaron Torres, honor guard noncommissioned officer-in-charge and a Topeka, Kan., native. “I can’t even describe how significant and how important this is, not only for us who are doing it out of respect for the past Marines, but also for their families.”
According to Torres, the detail performs between 150 and 200 military funerals per year. They practice for hours each week to be ready 365 days a year, rain or shine, to stand as a symbol of the fallen Marine’s service. Any Marine who served honorably is eligible to receive military burial honors.
“This may be the first and last time that these families see a Marine besides their loved one and we are going to leave a lasting impression on the family,” said Torres. “It's extremely important that we do everything as perfectly and as professionally as possible. That way, the family has a good lasting impression on the Marine Corps."
There are certain qualities that are important in a Marine who serves on the honor guard. After all, he or she is there to make the families of the deceased proud of their loved one’s time spent in the Marine Corps.
“A Marine who understands the significance of this is really at the heart of what it takes to be a funeral detail Marine,” said Torres. “If they don’t have that appreciation for what Marines in the past have done for us, then they’re not going to put the effort in that they need for that final honor.”
For Torres, being a member of the honor guard affirms that by being a part of those final respects, he is exemplifying what it means to be a Marine.
“In Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, we’re supporting the airfield of the base; for the honor detail, we’re supporting the whole Marine Corps,” he said. “It is one of the most rewarding things that I have done in my time during the Marine Corps. I would put it right up there with deployments overseas to Iraq.”
As the Marines silently depart, they leave the burial site behind, and for that family, a lasting impression of the Marine Corps’ professionalism and honor.