MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Only a small fraction of the American population are allowed the privilege of holding the title of a United States Marine, but an even smaller fraction of that populous have the honor of calling themselves the “World Famous Body Bearers.”
A detail of six hand-selected Marines show their honor, respect and appreciation of a fallen brother as they carry a flag-draped casket holding a Marine veteran who quite possibly lost their life in the line of duty, a sacrifice that was freely given and an outward sign of his or her faithful sense of duty to a cause larger than themselves.
As body bearers, their mission is to conduct funerals for Marines, Marine veterans and Marine dependents at Arlington National Cemetery and other cemeteries in the Washington, D.C. area. They are also called upon to perform funerals for senators, members of Congress, heads of state and Presidents. They have earned their reputation, and as all Marines do, they set high standards and train hard to exceed them.
The Body Bearer Section within Bravo Company, one of the ceremonial drill companies at Marine Barracks 8th and “I”, is always looking for Marines to step up to the plate and become part of the elite.
“All Marine Body Bearers are infantry men,” said Sgt. Michael Ramsey, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Body Bearers Section. “We do however hand select Marines from both recruit depots as well as Marine Corps Bases Camp Lejeune and Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms.”
There are three initial criteria for candidates: they must be infantrymen, they must pass an initial strength test, and they must have a recommendation from their command.
Because Marine Barracks Washington is an infantry unit, every Marine must at any time be trained and capable to defend the nation’s capitol as well as contribute to the Marine Corps forces serving in combat zones abroad.
These young Marines shoulder an enormous responsibility to represent the Marine Corps in an atmosphere of utmost respect and honor. Being able to maintain ceremonial composure, sometimes standing completely still for up to an hour at a time, is critical to their success.
Since the body bearers must carry caskets ranging in weight from 350 to 700 pounds, physical strength is critically important in performing their mission. “A Marine must be between 5 feet 11 inches and 6 feet and 2 inches tall, weigh at least 205 pounds, posses an infantry MOS, and pass a strength test consisting of, a bench press of 225 pounds for a minimum of 10 reps, behind the neck military press of 135 pounds for a minimum of 10 reps, straight bar curl 115 pounds for a minimum of 10 reps and squat 315 pounds for a minimum of 10 reps,” said Ramsey. “That is just to get accepted into our Ceremonial Drill School.”
Body Bearer Ceremonial Drill School is four months long. The training focuses on the most important aspects of being a body bearer: learning the proper techniques necessary to conduct a funeral, working as a team and weight training.
“Ceremonial Drill School is a lot tougher than it sounds,” added Ramsey. “Training consists of learning the drill movements, carrying techniques, strength training, endurance training, flag drill, learning the different types of funerals, basic body bearer knowledge, uniform maintenance, and cannon drill.”
The average body weight of a Marine body bearer is 230 pounds. This necessitates specially altered uniforms that are tailored to fit, yet flexible enough to allow for the range of motion necessary to lift the caskets. Strength training is coupled with health and nutrition classes to help the body bearers achieve their weightlifting goals safely.
The road to becoming a body bearer is not an easy one and has great physical requirements. A typical day for a body bearer includes ceremonial burial practice, weight training and conditioning, while the rest of their day is spent attending infantry proficiency training classes.
“We have funerals daily that take priority over any other tasks, said Ramsey. “We can have up to six funerals a day, as well as Friday night parades and other ceremonies that may require our assistance.”
To meet their mission of upholding the history and traditions of the Body Bearer Section and the Marine Corps as a whole, they train hard every day and execute their duties with precision and perfection in honor of all who have served the Marine Corps.
“We take care of our own, we perform flawless funerals for our fallen brothers and sisters in honor of them and their sacrifice as well as their families sacrifices,” said Ramsey. “The last memory of their loved one will be of us carrying him or her to their final resting place and we want to ensure we honor them and their family.”
For information on becoming a Marine Corps body bearer contact the Body Bearer Section, Bravo Company, Marine Barracks 8th and “I” at (202) 433-5922.