Father’s Proper Military Burial an Ordeal for Soldier-Daughter

Funeral_detailA few years ago during a visit with her father, a Marine Corps veteran, in St. Louis, Army Sgt. 1st Class Yvette James asked about his burial wishes when that time came. "I said, 'I'm your only child. What do you want me to do?'" She recalled. "He went to his room, got a folder, pulled out a copy of his DD 214, and said, 'All I want is to be buried with military honors.'" But James, who is stationed hundreds of miles away at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, found herself plunged into an intense month-long family battle when her father, Clinton Brownlee, died January 25.

This story was told in The Army Times, in an article titled“Soldier fights for right to bury her father.” It seems Yvette James was wrongly excluded from her father’s burial planning due, in large part, to her own military service. Even though she has the right to make those decisions under state law as the primary next of kin and only child, a funeral home allowed her cousin to make arrangements for the service and burial. Also, James had faxed a letter to the funeral home expressly denying permission for her cousin to make the arrangements.

The cousin wanted to bury James’ father at a veterans’ cemetery in St. Louis. However, James wants to have her father cremated and buried at Arlington National Cemetery, as she plans to retire in Maryland. As James put it: "Arlington is the ultimate cemetery. My dad was so proud of his service. That's all he talked about. He did four years, and you'd think he did 30. He loved the Marines."

Until state authorities stepped in to help her get control of her father's remains, James was stuck in miles of red tape. The funeral home refused to speak with her, and she later discovered that a funeral was held for her father without her knowledge or input.

While this scenario may be unusual, disagreements concerning a loved one’s death, funerals, and burial arrangements are not. State laws in this area differ significantly. With service members often living far away from their parents, the military may need to give more legal assistance so families can deal with these kinds of issues, according to the original article.

After learning that a burial for her dad had already been arranged by James' cousin, the federal government immediately contacted the Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration and put a stop to the burial. It declared that James certainly had the legal right to decide how her father would be buried.

James told The Army Times that she took military leave to travel to St. Louis and settled matters with the burial. Investigators with the Missouri State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors called her and asked her to speak with them at the funeral home. She was then able to arrange for the transfer of her father's remains to another funeral home in preparation for interment at Arlington National Cemetery.

After all this, James admitted that she was "exhausted," but also relieved that finally she received proper recognition as her father's next-of-kin and could help him with his wishes for burial as a veteran.

If you are a veteran or the loved one of a veteran, then make sure you know where the DD 214 form is kept so funeral and other benefits can be arranged.

For more information about military burial rights, visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: The Army Times (February 28, 2015) “Soldier fights for right to bury her father”

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