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Murray Backs Vets To Very End Bill Would Guarantee Military Honors At Funerals

(From For the Record, April 2, 1998): “Taps”: Fairchild Air Force Base occasionally sends a tape recording of “Taps” to be played at veterans’ funerals when the base’s volunteer buglers are involved in drills or deployed to other locations, a base spokeswoman said. A Wednesday story about veterans’ funerals said otherwise.

America’s veterans have the right to a proper military send-off, Sen. Patty Murray says.

The Washington Democrat wants Congress to pass a law requiring a military honor guard and bugler be sent to the funeral of every veteran whose family requests them.

The bill gives the Pentagon the responsibility, but no extra money, to fulfill what Murray and co-sponsors say is the nation’s obligation to veterans.

“Every day, veterans are being buried across this nation without military honors. And that is not right,” Murray said.

It’s gotten so bad that some veterans’ families who requested military honors had to settle for a cassette tape playing “Taps” at the burial, she said.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., has the support of a wide range of veterans’ groups.

A Pentagon spokesman agreed veterans deserve a proper funeral. But Lt. Col. Tom Begines wondered where bases would get the staff to fill the requirements of the bill.

Officials at Washington state military bases had mixed reactions to the proposal.

The bill would be no problem for Fairchild Air Force Base, said Lt. Amy Haedt, a base spokeswoman.

“We already operate on standards higher than those set out on this legislation, and we have a large enough honor guard to be able to accommodate that, here at this particular base,” she said.

Fairchild has about 40 honor guard members, with three buglers. Active duty members often have a funeral with 18 honor guard members; a retiree’s funeral often has 12 honor guard members. A typical honor guard consists of a bugler, an officer to present the flag, six pallbearers and four color guard members.

They have never played taps from a tape recorder.

“At the bare minimum, for retirees you would have a bugler,” she said.

Fairchild averages fewer than one funeral a week. But across the state, the Army base at Fort Lewis has sent honor guards to more than 200 funerals since January.

Murray’s bill would require more money and more people, said Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Hitt.

Honor guard members perform their duties part-time, along with their normal military duties. The bill would force the bases to absorb transportation costs and require the military to divide the nation among bases to cover funerals in each area.

Fort Lewis currently supplies flag bearers for veterans’ funerals within 150 miles of the base. It can only provide buglers at active duty and retiree burials, not those for veterans who left the service before retirement, Hitt said.

“It is not our call,” he said. “But if it passes, we do it.”

With the end of the Cold War, the military has fewer bases and more troops sent off on temporary assignment, Pentagon spokesman Begines said. It has fewer resources available to supply the services Murray and the other senators are requesting.

Under current military rules, families of deceased veterans are entitled to be presented with a flag. But, Begines stressed, this is “as resources permit and as requested.”

The Defense Department already works with the Department of Veterans Affairs, military bases, the reserves, ROTC and veterans organizations to find alternatives for funeral honors, he said.

Murray said veterans organizations often have stepped in when military honor guards were not available. But with more than 36,000 World War II veterans dying each month, she believes it’s asking too much of retired veterans to perform all these services.

Co-sponsor Sarbanes agreed.

“A society is not only judged by the way it treats its aging, its children, and its least fortunate, but also by how it dignifies and honors its deceased,” Sarbanes said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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