Sorrow, sadness and grief are among the most common feelings associated with funeral services. But for Marines, a service honoring the life of a fellow leatherneck may also invoke feelings of pride, commitment and honor.
Military funeral honors are the final ceremonial demonstration of gratitude to those who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended their nation.
Traditionally, participation in a funeral detail gives a great deal of pride and honor to any Marine. The Marine Corps Reserve undertakes the solemn duty of supporting funeral honors for the vast majority of Marine Corps veterans. In 2016, Marine Corps Reserve units and personnel performed more than 19,000 military funeral honors, representing 91 percent of all funeral honors rendered by the Marine Corps that year.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Brian P. Spittler stands out for his devotion and dedication to giving his fellow Marines one final salute.
Spittler, a team chief with Marine Forces Reserve’s 4th Civil Affairs Group in New Orleans, has participated in nearly 200 funeral details during the past seven years.
‘It is an Emotional Experience’
“Funeral ceremonies mean a lot to me, to the family and to the community,” Spittler said. “It is an emotional experience and it never really gets old to me.”
Part of his motivation and incentive to perform to the very best of his ability is driven by the fact that quite often, the families of the Marines being honored don’t have a lot of involvement with the Marine Corps or the military, he said. Sometimes, the families have never had the opportunity to see a military ceremony before.
With Marine Corps Reserve units located across the country, Reserve Marines are uniquely positioned to interact with veteran families. The funeral ceremony is an opportunity to develop the relationship between the Marine Corps, families and the community. Spittler said he wants to make it meaningful and give the families a good impression.
“It feels good to know that you are doing something good for those families,” he said. “I am definitely proud to be a part of it, but at the same time I am humbled and I am there to serve the Marine and their family. For me, that means a lot.”
Spittler explains that Marines are committed to paying tribute to their fallen brothers- and sisters-in-arms.
“I am proud to be a part of the ceremony in which we are finally laying a Marine to rest,” he said.
Military funeral honors can include but are not limited to, a military chaplain to address family members and friends of the fallen service member, an American flag draped over the casket, and a funeral detail serving as honor guards to execute the ceremony. Traditionally, the funeral detail will act as pallbearers, fold the flag, present it to the next of kin, fire a three-volley salute and play taps, while rendering the last salute of respect to the deceased.
Assigned to Funeral Detail
Spittler was a lance corporal when he participated in his first funeral detail in 2010.
“I was ‘voluntold’ for it,” he said. “They needed a Marine for the detail, and I just so happened to have my dress blue uniform on hand, so my sergeant told me: ‘Hey Marine, get ready, you will be in a funeral detail.’ All I could say was ‘Aye aye, sergeant!’”
During his first funeral detail, Spittler was one of the riflemen to execute the three-shot volley. At first, the duty didn’t hold any special significance for him and he wasn’t interested in participating in future funeral details.
“I was away from the ceremony and I couldn’t really see the family or what was going on,” he said.
But Spittler continued to be assigned to funeral ceremonies. His disinterest in the ceremonies endured until he was assigned to be one of the Marines who would fold the flag. For the very first time, he would be up and close to the ceremony, the family and the fallen Marine. That day, Spittler said, his view and opinions on funeral details drastically changed.
“It was the first time I folded the flag in front of the family,” he said. “I was so moved by that experience that when they asked for someone to participate in a detail, I volunteered for it; and I did it again, and again and again.”
From that point forward, the young Marine became increasingly involved in funeral details.
He recollects that as a corporal, being in charge of certain aspects of funeral details and having to meet such a high level of proficiency and discipline allowed him to exercise and hone his leadership skills.
Keeping Tradition Alive
Spittler said he values the numerous encounters he’s had with Marine veterans.
“I have met Marines of all generations,” he said. “Before I started doing these funerals, I had only worked with Marines within my generation. But when I started doing these funerals, I started working with a lot of other organizations, such as the American Legion and the American Veterans Organizations. I have even met veterans from Korea, Vietnam and World War II — of which there aren’t many left.”
Spittler explains that throughout his career as a Reserve Marine, he has always been ready and willing to help his command. Participating in funeral details and other volunteer-based programs, such as Toys for Tots, is the best way he has found to do it.
Sometimes, Reserve Marines have the opportunity to participate in Marine Corps events and ceremonies outside their scheduled drill periods. Marines can earn points towards retirement when they are involved in official events requested by their command. Their actions are also noted and considered favorably by their command for promotions and awards.
Spittler is now a staff sergeant with a bright and promising future in the Marine Corps. The motivated Marine continues to volunteer his time participating in Marine Corps events and ceremonies and mentoring junior Marines to do the same.