Marine Corps Base Quantico -- Dressed in full, Marines in Quantico’s Ceremonial Platoon execute services with a quick snap and prestigious pop.
“There is no greater honor than representing the Corps, carrying our nation’s insignia and burying our fallen,” said Sgt. Maj. Gerald Saunders, base sergeant major. “Our Marines feel a sense of pride when being chosen for this meaningful duty.”
A select group of Marines take on these duties for nine months, ensuring that the onus of providing these details is no longer assumed by individual commands. Each weekday members of the platoon can be seen raising and lowering the colors at Lejeune Hall aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico in addition to their many other weekly tasks.
For one Marine, being part of the ceremonial platoon was something he welcomed. After volunteering to join the ranks, Sgt. Edward Lamb, communication maintenance specialist from Maintenance Logistics Branch, participated in his first funeral honor Jan. 8. The novice member arrived three days before performing his first ceremony. He said he was very “confident” in his ability to represent the Corps.
The rendering of military funeral honors is a large part of the duties provided by the ceremonial platoon, along with their participation in military parades, providing volunteer support for special events, and offering color guard for ceremonies and major events both on and off base.
Funerary services are personalized for each service member, many of whom the Marines may have never met. The Veterans Administration establishes eligibility for military honors that are prepared for service members and their families. According to Daniel Purvis, cemetery technician, the high-stepping and swift dedicated movements are poetry in motion.
“When families arrive at [Quantico National Cemetery] they are at loose ends. They have come from a very long journey. At their last stop they see the Marines; you can physically see the relief that comes over them. It is great to witness the real details; for example, something as small as recovering the shells from the [rifle line three-volley salute] to present to the family,” said Purvis.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine’ is one of the mottos that we have. Even in those final moments the Marine Corps is right there to usher the family and the service member into the next wave,” said Sgt. Matthew Kies, platoon sergeant.
Highly coordinated efforts from the platoon give assurance to families who trust the Marine Corps to honor their loved ones. Marines hand-carry each veteran’s casket. The classic patriotic sound of taps is performed by a live bugler from the Quantico Marine Corps Ceremonial Band. An American flag is ceremoniously folded and presented to a family member, following three shots from a rifle line. In a snap, a Marine salutes the family. The wind often carries the light scent of gunpowder from the rifles fired through the air.
According to Cpl. Jonathan Figueroa presenting the flag to the family was the hardest part of his journey with the platoon. “There have been a few funerals where the next of kin will read a letter that tugs at my heart, but it’s an honor to be the last Marines families see before they bury their loved ones.”
Mourning bands, which cover the cross rifles on the dress uniform, are worn by each Marine as a sign of respect to the family. This is one of the few niche ways Marines communicate a common respect for their fellow comrades.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a private or a general you are treated with honor,” said Purvis, a disabled veteran who served two tours in Vietnam.
Within a nine-month rotation, individual augmentees in the platoon cycle in and out of the platoon based on when their orders were processed. The influx of personnel forces the platoon to constantly train to ensure each member performs flawlessly.
As a prior drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. William Foster, Ceremonial Platoon noncommissioned officer in charge, shares the importance of military traditions with Marines while they are with the platoon. He instills the skills and abilities in the augmentees, who continuously perfect drill and ceremony techniques within the platoon.
Figueroa, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, has served in the ceremonial platoon for almost nine months and hopes to extend his service with the group. As a senior member of the platoon he often serves as a detail commander and pallbearer.
“There is not a day that goes by that we are not practicing a facet of a ceremony. All of the pallbearers and rifle arms detail function hand-in-hand, therefore they can perform all procedures including any colorguard,” said Foster.
A fitness routine is centered on strength training in order to prepare Marines to serve as pallbearers. Leaders provide a weighted casket to ensure expectations are met during practice. Everyone from the newest private to the staff noncommissioned officer shares this duty.
“Those who are chosen for this detail have extreme discipline and pay attention to detail. They gotta look good in uniform, and our Marines do,” said Saunders. “The service our platoon provides shows the legacy of discipline throughout the Corps. They are the best at what they do.”
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