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Honor guard One-striper feels pressure of serving on funeral details

  • Published
  • By Airmen David Salanitri
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is the second in a series of three first-person articles on Keesler News staff writer Airman David Salanitri's experiences with the Keesler Honor Guard.

The day I found out I'd be playing Taps in my first funeral, I was confident. However, as the time got nearer, I started to become a little nervous.
 
My first funeral was for a military veteran, which means he had less than 20 years of service. These funerals require only a flag-folding, the playing of Taps and the presentation of the flag to the family. 

Playing Taps is considered to be easy. All you have to do is stay in one spot, salute the hearse and casket, and finally, play Taps. 

Don't kid yourself -- with the entire family's eyes on you, there's more than a little pressure.
 
Our Airman in charge went about the funeral as if it was another day at the office. At one point, he told me to relax and quit asking so many questions. 

The temperature was about 75 degrees, the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I thought how perfect a day it was to be alive. A funeral makes me think about such stuff. 

The ceremony went on smoothly, with a few small errors only an honor guardsman would pick out. 

My signal was given to start playing Taps, so I did. As I was playing, I could see a few of the women wiping tears away from their eyes. I force myself to stare at the end of my bugle as I continued playing. 

As Taps ended, I brought the bugle down to attention and marched back to the van.
Once the flag was folded and presented to the family, the other two honor guardsmen joined me at the van. 

"Ya did well, Sal," said our Airman in charge, who was an accomplished honor guardsman.
 
That comment made my day. 

We wrapped things up on the drive home by going over the day's ceremony and what we could've done better. 

A bigger deal than playing Taps turned out to be the time I was the noncommissioned officer in charge of a funeral detail -- me, with only one stripe on my arm. My job was three-fold: supervise the Airmen on the detail, take charge of things once we arrived at the cemetery and express the Air Force's condolences as I presented the flag to the widow. 

I received the flag from the person in charge of folding it, then waited through the 21-gun salute and Taps. After taps, I walked up to the widow, got down on a knee and presented the flag to her. She grabbed onto my hand as tears were running down here checks, and thanked me. That was a day I would remember.

Next: Looking back.
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