PINEVILLE, La. – “Whenever I feel myself becoming emotionally attached and wanting to mourn with the family, which is not our job, I always think to place the mission first. That gets me through the moment.”
Staff Sgt. Cody Standridge of the Louisiana National Guard’s 204th Theater Airfield Operations Group has a job like few others in the military – he is a member of a Military Funeral Honors team based out of the Gillis W. Long Center in Carville. His unit renders honors to show the deep gratitude of a nation to those who, in times of war and peace, have honorably defended our country.
It’s the final demonstration of a grateful nation provided to a veteran’s family.
A few months ago, Standridge became the first La. guardsman to perform 1,000 funerals.
He said many service members want to serve on the team, but they can’t because it is too emotional.
“This is very important what we do and we only have one opportunity to get it right. Family members remember this for the rest of their lives. If we mess up, we can’t fix that. Some people have the heart to go out there, but just lack the capacity,” said Standridge. “It’s not faulting them, they just can’t.”
Standridge joined the unit in 2009. Although he now serves in a part-time capacity, from 2011-2016, he worked full-time and served as the team leader. He explained that during a funeral, the team stands at attention, salutes the hearse and casket as it’s moving.
His team goes wherever they’re needed to perform the funerals. There were times when six to 10 funerals could occur all in the same day. When he was full-time, he was often expected to work six days a week because of the high volume of funerals in Louisiana.
Standridge explained that for the most part, the funerals the team performs are for older veterans who may have been in hospice or in a hospital.
“… When we play Taps, it reminds them that he wasn’t just a frail old man who died in a bed. He was once young and did something that deserves to be proud of. That’s how it is for me,” said Standridge. “Whenever we’re out there, it’s not an older member of society, it’s someone my age that filled my shoes before me.”
For many, attending funerals day in and day out might seem a difficult thing to handle. But Standridge knew early on that this was the job for him.
“[My] third funeral … when we played taps there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. It brought home the importance of what we do and I couldn’t imagine anything else in the world that I’d be more proud to do.”
In order to wear the “Honor Guard” tab on the service uniform, members must complete an intense 40-hour training course. Standridge attended this course and was instructed by Spc. Michael Lichtey, 19. Not long after, Lichtey was accidently shot and killed.
Standridge said this mission was the toughest of his 1,000 funerals.
“Everybody on [the team] knew him. It hit everybody really hard when we lost him. I looked across [the casket] and everyone had tears running down their faces, which we are absolutely not allowed to do.”
Families of eligible veterans can request funeral honors through their funeral director. The funeral director will contact the appropriate military branch to arrange for the funeral honors detail.