As of Jan. 1, virtually all veterans will be guaranteed military funeral honors by law, and with World War II veterans passing away at the rate of more than 1,000 a day, the Pentagon is scrambling to ensure that honor guards will be available.
Congress inserted a provision into the fiscal 2000 Defense Authorization Act requiring the military to perform basic funeral honors on request for any veteran of the active military discharged on other than dishonorable conditions. Previously, funeral honors were granted as a courtesy, not as a right.
Under the new law, two service members, including at least one from the deceased veteran's service, will fold and present the American flag to survivors. A bugler, if one is available, will sound taps; if one is not available, a compact disc of the melancholy melody will be provided.
"It is an appropriate tribute for all of our veterans," said Gail McGinn, principal director to the deputy assistant secretary of defense for personnel, support, families and education. "The ceremony honoring the deceased veteran can be seen as an affirmation of the person's life as well as an expression of the nation's gratitude."
However, there are only 500 buglers in the Department of Defense, and the Pentagon says that families with their hearts set on a bugler should look to veterans organizations or professional musicians. Even getting service members to all the funerals for the flag ceremony could stretch manpower.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 572,000 veterans will die in 2000 and that the number will rise to 620,000 a year by 2008 as the World War II generation--16.1 million veterans--hits octogenarian status en masse. With the new law in effect, the Pentagon is expecting as many as 250,000 requests next year, and it will turn to reservists, who will receive a $50 stipend per funeral.
The Defense Department is sending information kits to 24,000 funeral home directors, who are supposed to request the military honors rather than family members. A toll-free number, 1-877-MIL-HONR, will be available after Jan. 1 to provide information to funeral directors.
ALL SYSTEMS GO: On New Year's Eve, 7,589 Defense Department computer systems ought to roll over into 2000 without a glitch, and electric power, water and other utilities at 637 U.S. military installations around the world ought to flow into the new year without a hitch, according to Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre.
All told, Defense has spent $3.6 billion over the past six years checking its computers.
"We could not stand the consequence if we had not spent the $3.6 billion," he said at a news conference. "In the process, we have much, much better positive control over our information systems."
INVISIBLE EYE: An agreement between the Air Force and a private company, FLIR Systems Inc. of Portland, Ore., has produced a new laser system that allows for the surreptitious identification of objects at night. The Covert Adjustable Laser Illuminator emits a laser that is invisible to the eye but can be captured on a special television system.
The laser system has been purchased by the German government for environmental patrols at night. It will be used to spot ships dumping waste at sea.