MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
For many past and present military service members, the sound of Taps playing and the image of a folded American flag being presented to a family member are a few American military traditions that spring to mind when honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The Combat Center funeral detail is one group of Marines who are not strangers to these traditions.
Sgt. Robert H. Lorrison, an Automated Message Handling System technician, Company B, Headquarters Battalion, is the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the funeral detail.
He gained responsibility as the senior Marine about two years ago, and was honored to take charge of a detail that represents the entire Marine Corps, he said.
“That is what the detail is,” said Lorrison, a Hampton, Va., native about representing the Corps. “We honor Marines, whether they were in for four years or for 30. Even though the families and the loved ones are there, you wouldn’t be if it didn’t mean laying that military member to rest. Some of these Marines we remember had been retired for decades. For the families, we may be the first contact they have had with military members in a long time.”
Lorrison said he remembers the emotion he felt the first time he gave a folded flag to the widow of a retired Marine.
“It’s not something you ever get used to,” he said about the personal connection with families. “It’s something you learn to cope with. When you are there firing the three volley salute or folding the flag, you are part of the service. But when you present the flag, it almost feels like you are the service because all eyes are on you. It’s the hardest part of the job.”
Cpl. Alfred J. LeDuc, center personnel administration assistant noncommissioned officer, served three years on the funeral detail until this month, he said.
LeDuc, a Dallas native, said he joined the detail because he was told it would be a great experience for him as a young Marine.
“People said it would keep me busy,” said LeDuc. “I get to see the people’s faces and go places.”
LeDuc added aside from meeting California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the assistant Secretary of the Navy and a
Medal of Honor recipient, he also received several letters of appreciation, certificates of accommodation and a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
“It’s definitely unforgettable,” said LeDuc about his experiences. “The rewards definitely outweigh the negatives of what I do. It shows the dignity of what I do, and everyone is extremely grateful. You get to see how Marines are appreciated once you branch off the Twentynine Palms area.”
Jimmy Biggerstaff, a journalist and photographer for the Hi Desert Star Newspaper, had first-hand experience with the detail during his father’s funeral ceremony in September.
“Overall it was a sense of satisfaction, which seems a strange and inadequate description,” said Biggerstaff about the detail’s presence at his father’s funeral. “By way of explanation, the presence of the detail and their actions helped add the necessary feeling of finality to Dad’s life.”
Biggerstaff added although he does not recall the name of the Marine who handed him a folded flag, he believes his name was less important than the fact he represented the history and traditions of the Corps.