Military Honors for Former Presidents

Former presidents are afforded specific military honors according to Department of the Army Pamphlet 1-1. Although the following honors are authorized, the family may choose to decline some or all of these specific entitlements.

Military escort for the immediate family - The commanding general for Joint Task Force-National Capital Region (JTF-NCR) serves as the military escort for the former president's next of kin from the time of the official announcement of the death until burial.

Guard of Honor - An armed forces element that provides a ceremonial presence when the former president lies in repose or state. Guard of honor members are assigned to ceremonial units of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard within the National Capital Region.

Armed Forces body bearers - A nine-person team that carries the casket.

Military clergy - A military chaplain from one of the services assigned to assist the former president's immediate family and escort the family clergy.

Flag-draped casket – An honor afforded to all military veterans, including the president as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Military flyover – Flyovers with missing man formation are provided at funeral or memorial services in honor of rated active-duty aviation personnel, and dignitaries of the Armed Forces or federal government. During a state funeral, the flyover consists of 21 tactical fighter aircraft, in formation as a single lead aircraft followed by 5 flights of four aircraft each. The number three aircraft in the final flight executes the missing man maneuver.

This honor is provided as the caisson passes through the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 4th Street, N.W. en route to the U.S. Capitol, or at interment if there is no formal procession in Washington, D.C.

Caisson – First used by the military to carry ammunition, the caisson is now used in a ceremonial capacity during formal military funeral processions. The Caisson Platoon of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) transports the remains during the main funeral procession in Washington, D.C.

The caisson consists of six horses of the same color, three riders, and a section chief mounted on a separate horse. The caisson is a converted transport wagon for a 75mm cannon and is also used to honor fallen comrades during full-honor funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.

Caparisoned horse – A riderless horse that follows the caisson carrying the casket of any Army or Marine Corps officer in the rank of colonel or above, and presidents as commanders-in-chief. A pair of boots are reversed in the stirrups of the empty saddle to symbolize the warrior will never ride again.

21-Gun Salute  - A cannon salute of 21 rounds fired with five-second intervals between rounds.

Firing three volleys over a grave – A volley traditionally fired by a seven-member firing party. This practice originates in the custom of halting battles to remove the dead from the battlefield. Once the deceased troops were removed, three rifle volleys were fired as a signal that the battle could resume. The fact that the firing party consists of seven service members firing three volleys does not constitute a 21-gun salute.

Military Musical Honors  - The music played at a military funeral to honor the former president during each phase of the funeral. Some traditional selections include:

  • Ruffles and Flourishes - Ruffles are played on drums and flourishes on bugles. They are sounded together, once for each star of the general officer being honored or according to the title or office held. Four ruffles and flourishes are the highest honor and are played for presidents.
  • “Hail to the Chief” - Traditional musical honors played for the president and former presidents of the United States.
  • The National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”
  • “Taps” - A bugle call sounded over the grave of a service member that dates back to the Civil War.

For more information and to download fact sheets on military honors, visit

Information gathered from the manual Drill and Ceremonies, July 03, HQ DA, FM 3-21.5.