By Betsy Ruffin

Editor’s Note: On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.

The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

During World War I the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War IIThe Vietnam WarThe Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, but in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

As we pause on this Memorial Day to remember the ultimate sacrifice paid by many military members, Betsy Ruffin shares the personal story of the military funeral for her brother, a veteran, who was recently interred at the Dallas/Fort Worth National Cemetery, and her uncle buried at the National Cemetery in Virginia. We thank Betsy’s family and all our military men and women for their service to our country.

A military service, especially one at a national cemetery, is very moving and respectful. Betsy explains the traditions of a military committal service.

 

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

With those words, the United States flag that had been draped over my brother’s coffin and folded, was presented to my nephew.  The military ceremony, brief but meaningful, was held at the DFW National Cemetery.  My brother was eligible for burial at the cemetery as a U.S. Army veteran of nine years. This included a tour in Vietnam as a communications specialist at an evacuation hospital.  Spouses are also eligible and my sister-in-law was previously buried at the cemetery.

Two military personnel – Fort Hood Military Funeral Honors provides the services for Army veterans at this cemetery – stood at attention, saluting as the vehicle carrying the flag draped casket arrived and was transported to the Committal Shelter.  Taps was played via a recording and the flag folding ceremony began.  The folding follows strict protocols and each of the 13 folds has a particular meaning.  More on this may be found at https://www.legion.org/flag/folding and https://www.military.com/flag-day/meaning-behind-13-flag-folds.html.  Once folded, only the blue field with stars is showing and the flag is held waist high by the presenting person, with the long edge facing the recipient.  Leaning toward the recipient, the flag is presented with the words

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

The military honors portion of my brother’s service thus ended, a moving and appreciated moment for my nephew, myself, and the rest of the family.

The DFW National Cemetery is one of 155 Veterans Administration-run national cemeteries in 42 states and Puerto Rico.  There are six national cemeteries in Texas and 171 national cemeteries in all. Eligibility requirements are based on one of the following being true. The person qualifying for burial benefits is:

  • A Veteran who didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge
  • A service member who died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty for training
  • The spouse or minor child of a Veteran, even if the Veteran died first, or in some cases, the unmarried adult dependent child of a Veteran. Some special groups may be eligible also. https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/eligibility/

Burial benefits available include gravesite in any of our national cemeteries with available space, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family.  Arrangements are generally made via the funeral home used.

The history of the national cemeteries goes back to 1862. On July 17 of that year, Congress enacted legislation that authorized the President to purchase “cemetery grounds” to be used as national cemeteries “for soldiers who shall have died in the service of the country.”  More history may be found at https://www.cem.va.gov/history/history.asp#GeneralHistory.

The most well-known military cemetery is not actually under the administration of the VA.  Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia is actually under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Army. Its history dates back to the Civil War, when, on May 13, 1864, the first military burial was conducted for Private William Christman, on the grounds of what had been the Custis-Lee estate. Eligibility for burial there is the strictest of any national cemetery.  My uncle, Richard E. Ruffin, is buried there based on his career military service, primarily Army, and his service in three conflicts: WWII, Korea, Vietnam.

Wherever the cemetery, these final honors to those who honorably served our country in military service are well-deserved.

The one of the standing, saluting soldier is my uncle, Richard Ruffin. He was career military and is the Richard Ruffin buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He served in Korea during that conflict/occupation. He was the top sergeant at an Honest John Missile unit in Vietnam. He did a six-month deployment in the Navy during WWII, mustered out, then went back into the Army for the rest of career.

The other pictures are of my brother, William Ruffin. The more formal image is from his basic training at Fort Lewis in 1968. The more casual picture is from Vietnam where  he served as a communications person at an evacuation hospital in Pleiku, Vietnam from 1969-70.

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