Volunteers Sought for Vet Funerals

By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Deaths of World War II veterans have risen to some 1,200 day, and the Pentagon is looking for volunteers to play 'Taps,'' present the American flag and perform other military honors at funerals.

``It's very much of a challenge for all the services,'' to provide such ceremonies at so many funerals, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said.

``But it's something that we need to do,'' he said. ``This the right thing to do.''

From the pool of millions of troops that served in World War II, Quigley said some 1,200 veterans are dying daily, up from 1,000 a day two years ago.

The volunteer program, to start later this summer, seeks help from veterans, reservists and others and is aimed at freeing members of the 1.4 million active-duty force already stressed by increased deployments.

Not all families ask for military honors. Still, the Pentagon says it performed at 91,174 funerals last year.

The number is expected to keep rising for several years until that generation of veterans is gone, then stabilize and finally decline.

``It's all a desire to do the right thing for the families of our deceased veterans, particularly of the World War II generation,'' Quigley said.

``And when you balance that still-growing number of deaths per month from that very, very large number of Americans that served in the Second World War against the active duty and reserve requirements of today's military, the numbers don't match.''

The Pentagon is committed by law to send to two uniformed service members to each funeral - one of which should be from the same service as the deceased. They are supposed to do the folding and the presenting of the flag to the surviving family members and to play ``Taps.''

``And that is what we feel we are committed to doing as a minimum each and every time,'' Quigley said, adding that a firing squad or honor cordon would ``add a level of solemnity and dignity to every funeral service if you could have more people.''

Officials said that in preliminary contacts, veterans organizations have said they will gladly take on the responsibility, but will need some training to brush up on the duties.

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On the Net:

Military funeral honors: http://www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil