Every Day is Memorial Day

  • Published
  • By Jake Shaw
  • 482nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Click…click…click…you can hear the crisp, unmistakable sound of heels tapping together simultaneously.
With precision movements, members of the Homestead Air Reserve Base Honor Guard unit march in unison to take their spot in the funeral procession. They are dressed in pristine Air Force dress uniforms and spit-shined shoes you can see your reflection in.
For most Americans, May 30 is Memorial Day; a day filled with parades and ceremonies; a day when many Americans pause to honor our military veterans. But for Air Force honor guard units every day is Memorial Day.
An Air Force bugler stands 50 paces from a flag-draped casket. Two Airmen stand perfectly still at opposite ends of the fallen hero in a display of honor.
As the funeral director finishes reading the eulogy, the bugler plays Taps to signal the end of the duty day for the resting veteran. The first note of Taps is the cue for the two Airmen flanking the casket to slowly raise their right hand until they touch the bill of their hats, in a final salute to the veteran.
After the bugler plays the last note of Taps, the Airmen begin the ceremonial flag folding. An Airman kneels in front of the deceased veteran’s next of kin, presents the American flag, and remarks, “On behalf of the president of the United States and a grateful nation, our country’s flag is presented as a token of appreciation for many years of faithful and honorable service.”
Staff Sgt. Ryan Ayers, a member of the 482nd Fighter Wing Base Honor Guard, said “The ceremony is enough to draw tears from even the most strong-willed spectator.”
Like all Air Force honor guards, the Homestead ARB Honor Guard covers a large area. Its area of responsibility covers nearly all of South Florida – from West Palm Beach in the north to Monroe County in the south. Honor guard members work most weekends, drive hours through road raging traffic and stand perfectly still without flinching for hours during ceremonies.
“The sacrifices of the honor guard are nothing compared to the sacrifices made by those we pay tribute to,” said Staff Sgt. Luis Pacheco, a 2-year veteran of the Homestead ARB Honor Guard. “We get to meet heroes every day,” adds Tech. Sgt. Francisco Navarro, another proud member of the Honor Guard.
In addition to providing solemn military funeral honors, Air Force honor guard units represent the Air Force at community events. The eight-member unit from Homestead ARB marched in 13 parades, presented the colors during the national anthem 15 times at large public events and honored 172 veterans at military funerals in 2004.
“We are sometimes called ambassadors in blue,” said Sergeant Navarro. “Our area of responsibility covers over 5,500 square miles – from West Palm Beach to Key West.”
Military funeral services are a time-honored custom that predates the Air Force. In January 2000 they became a mandated function. With the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, the military was required to provide at least basic funeral honors for all eligible veterans. The law ensures all eligible veterans receive a proper farewell from their country.
With the sheer number of ceremonies the ambassadors in blue perform each year, common sense would lead one to believe the honor guard members become immune to the emotions of a funeral.
Staff Sgt. Natasha Jamass, another member of the Homestead ARB Honor Guard, doesn’t feel that way. “We do this every day, but no matter how many funerals we attend, it’s impossible to escape from the emotions involved,” she said.
That’s because the military is one big family, according to Sergeant Ayers.
“When we attend a funeral, we’re saying farewell to one of our own family members with a professional ceremony,” he said. “Providing a final tribute and giving military families a sense of closure is not just a job – it’s an honor.”
For the Air Force honor guards, Memorial Day is not a holiday – it’s every day.