No. Yes. Well…
When I received this question a few months ago on my Instagram account, I went right to work answering it as I went through a typical scenario in my head. At the same time, my friend, CN Alec White, a current US Navy Ceremonial Guardsman assigned to the Casket Team, gave a different answer from a different point of view. A different context is what we were both thinking, even though both of our answers were correct. Having the Officer in Charge of the US Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard weight-in brought a complete answer for the question and everything worked out.
So, I thought I would present a full answer here for future reference.
Pallbearer, Casket Bearer, Body Bearer
No matter the title, each military service pallbearer team has specific protocols for their job. This also applies to first responder teams as well. While no two ceremonies are exactly the same, constant practice enables the team to adapt and overcome with minutes of notification- or less.
First Responders: Here Are Some Scenarios.
- The remains have been transported from the site to the morgue. All of the pallbearers are in duty uniform and may be part of the department honor guard or not. Depending on your location and your job, duty uniform may not require a cover. The uniform for the informal movement of the remains does not matter.
- Location: In the northeast of the United states, most law enforcement duty uniforms include a cover.
- Job: Many sheriff’s deputies are required to wear one of a couple of different covers in duty uniform.
- Transport of the remains from the morgue to the funeral home (if required) can sometimes be a little more formal. However, the uniform may not matter, unless the family is there. The family’s presence dictates how formal and precise movement should be.
- Interment Day. Place covers before advancing to retrieve the remains (casket or urn). Once at the chapel where the service will take place (could be the funeral home or another location), wear covers to place the casket/urn.
- Not staying for the service: the covered (wearing hats) pallbearers move the flag-draped casket is in place and depart to out of sight of the family while remaining covered. At the designated time, form up out of sight of the family, place your covers, and move to retrieve the remains for transport to the grave site.
- Staying for the service: move to your seats (to the left of the family), sit as one unit, and then remove your covers. At the designated time and moving as one unit, replace your covers, stand up, and move to retrieve the remains for transport to the grave site.
Placing a casket when the aisle is too narrow or the remains and casket are too heavy.
In the case of the deceased being considerably overweight and having a heavy casket (in some cases you could be carrying 1500 lbs or more), the pallbearers may need the assistance of a bier/church truck to move the casket. Placement on the bier can take place upon removal from the coach/apparatus, or on arrival at the doorway of the chapel.
The casket must also be set on a bier and pushed into place by two pallbearers when the aisle is too narrow for all of the pallbearers to carry the casket and set it into place. For this instance, all pallbearers bring in the casket, set it on the bier, remove covers, and step back. The pallbearers designated as Head and Foot, hand off their covers to the person next to them and bring the remains down the isle feet-first with Head pushing and Foot guiding. Once in position, if the flag is dressed (ends folded up), Head and Foot fix the flag so that it properly drapes all around and depart.
On the way out, Head and Foot retrieve the remains the back of the chapel, dress the flag, step back into place, person next to them returns their cover, moving as one unit the team members place their covers, and carry the remains out to the coach/apparatus.
Many thanks to my friends, Coast Guard LT Brandon Earhart and Navy CN Alec White for their input and of course their service to our country not only in their respective branch, but also for stepping up to render honors in the National Capital Region and beyond.