AUGUSTA, Ga. — Outside a private church in Screven County last spring, men and women crowded around the grave of a World War II Navy veteran who was stationed in Charleston, S.C.
As an officer from Fort Gordon’s Navy Information Operations Command handed the woman’s children an American flag folded into a neat triangle, the soft sounds of a bugler playing taps could be heard over sobs and prayers.
Another military family had lost its mother, and as it did 144 times last year in 33 Georgia and South Carolina counties, the local command’s Funeral Honors Detail was there to pay its respects.
It’s a tradition the group’s 56 sailors value. In 2013, records show the detail traveled nearly 16,000 miles and devoted more than 3,000 man hours to honor Navy veterans.
Such totals represent a 13 percent increase from 2012.
“The portion of the Sailor’s Creed that reads, ‘I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me’ explains why I serve as a member of the detail,” said Chief Petty Officer Miguel Farina, the team’s leader. “This is the last goodbye for our veterans. These veterans and their families deserve this honor. These funerals often tell the stories of a great generation, which we are losing all too fast.”
So far this year, the detail has provided services for 30 funerals, two of which were for active-duty personnel. Some of the detail’s members participate in two or three funerals a week to ensure this service is provided to veterans and their families.
“Serving on the team and honoring our veterans is one of the most rewarding experiences that I have had since joining the Navy,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Londyn Barrett, a member of the detail since January 2013. “There is an outpouring of gratitude by these veteran’s families at every funeral that we attend.”
Farina said the final honor provided by the detail to fallen sailors is not only ceremonious, but a time-honored tradition that reflects the service and sacrifice they and their families make for their nation.
He said the service in Screven County serves as a special example of why his team volunteers for funeral detail. The funeral featured a sailor who met her future husband while leading a unit in Charleston that processed the return of sailors from Europe.
According to the family, which requested it not be identified, the woman worked in a large hut and one day, was told by a sailor that he would never take orders from a woman and moved his desk to the opposite end of the building.
Two weeks after the man left the Navy, she received a letter from the man who refused to take orders from her, asking for her hand in marriage. They were married shortly after and remained married until his death a few years before hers.
“This story touched most of us present,” Farina said. “It spoke of a life begun on a chance meeting during the war.”
Russell Gary, the owner of Savannah Valley Memorial Garden in Thomson, has witnessed the Funeral Honors Detail participate in more than one funeral.
“These men and women are very impressive. These sailors are true professionals and make a huge impact on the families of these veterans.”
The detail also participates in annual events throughout the Augusta area, such as the German-Italian Memorial. Additionally, members participate as riflemen or as a flag-folding detail in military celebrations and ceremonies like the Navy Day Ball, sailors’ re-enlistments and retirements.
Chief Petty Officer Joe Obleton has served on the detail since it was established in 2001, participating in about 300 funerals.
“Throughout the years I have been very impressed to watch our team become better trained, more organized and form into a cohesive unit,” he said. “I am proud to work with such a fine group of sailors and it is truly an honor to serve as a member of the detail.”