At Willamette National Cemetery June 5, an honor guard folds the flag that had covered the casket of Oregon Catholic veteran Rick Best. Volunteer groups can offer military honors at other cemeteries. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
At Willamette National Cemetery June 5, an honor guard folds the flag that had covered the casket of Oregon Catholic veteran Rick Best. Volunteer groups can offer military honors at other cemeteries. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

It’s not unusual for Bernard Offley to be found at a local military funeral. The retired Army sergeant first class participates in an honor guard for Catholic War Veterans of America in Columbia County.

When called to participate in a military funeral, Offley and his fellow volunteers perform a three-volley gun salute and have either a member of their organization or a local volunteer perform taps on a bugle.

Generally, a team from the recently-deceased veteran’s branch of service is on hand to perform a flag ceremony at the gravesite, but the military does not provide veterans full funeral honors. For those families wanting more honors paid to their loved one, groups like Offley’s are called to lend a hand.

If a member of the military dies in action, he or she is afforded full honors that include a gravesite ceremony with taps, a flag folding ceremony, a firing team and pallbearers.

For local veterans who chose to be buried at Willamette National Cemetery, this is also a frequently bestowed honor, as there is a military honor guard on site.

Offley sees importance in his service. Despite being in a wheelchair, he manages to be at every ceremony he can. He sees groups like his and other veterans’ groups as filling in when there aren’t government resources to provide full honors to veterans. And providing honors is essential.

“It shows that the country appreciates the service of that individual whether a veteran from World War II, Korea, Vietnam or just having served at home,” says Offley. “They took the time out of their life to serve their country. It’s time for us to honor them back.”

For Catholic veterans, a funeral may not seem substantially different. Eric Thomas, military veteran and funeral director at Gethsemani Catholic Cemetery and Funeral Home helps families incorporate military honors into funerals.

A funeral Mass remains the same and no flag is laid over the casket in the church because nothing can be placed over the funeral pall, says Thomas.

During the gravesite committal, however, a flag is draped over the casket and the honor guard works out with the celebrant the order of the ceremony.

The funeral home can take care of all the arrangements, says Thomas. And even if a family wants their loved one to be buried at a private cemetery or Catholic cemetery rather than the local military cemetery, many funeral homes, including Gethsemani, can create military grave markers.

Offley asks families encountering problems securing military honors for their loved ones to contact veterans’ groups like his to help out.

“It’s our job. We’re a band of brothers for life. Once you’re in the military, you’re brothers and sisters in arms,” he says.

Find out more

Catholic War Veterans – Oregon

cwvusa.org

503-706-6693