The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funeral, 1921-1969


Former Army Chief of Staff General Peyton C. March
Special Military Funeral
13-18 April 1955

General Peyton C. March, Chief of Staff of the Army during World War I, died at the age of ninety in Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington, D.C., on 13 April 1955. The Department of the Army immediately published General Order 26 announcing General March's death and Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens directed all installations under the control of the department to display the national flag at half-staff until sunset on the day of burial, 18 April. Secretary Stevens also ordered the commanding general of the Military District of Washington, Maj. Gen. John H. Stokes, Jr., to render appropriate honors. General March was entitled to a Combined Services Full Honor Funeral, but the Secretary of Defense could direct a more elaborate ceremony for one of his rank. As in the case of General Vandenberg, who had died the previous year, Secretary Charles E. Wilson authorized a Special Military Funeral.

The arrangements made by General Stokes, who took into account the preferences of the March family, involved no church or chapel service. There was to be only a procession through Washington to Arlington National Cemetery with last rites at the graveside. The burial plot was in Section 30, the northeastern section of the cemetery that contained the graves of William Howard Taft, James V. Forrestal, and Hoyt S. Vandenberg.

The procession was to form in Washington on Constitution Avenue at 15th Street, N.W. General March's casket was to be brought to this point by hearse from the funeral establishment then transferred to a caisson for the move to the cemetery.

The military escort in the procession was to consist of the escort commander and his staff; the U.S. Army Band; one battalion of cadets from the US Military Academy; one company of infantry; one battery of field artillery; one company of armor; the US Marine Band; one company of marines; one company of blue­jackets; one squadron of airmen; and one composite company of servicewomen. The company of servicewomen had been added to the conventional plan by General Stokes, who followed the precedent set by the Navy for the funeral of Admiral Sherman in 1951. All together the strength of the military escort for the funeral of General March was to be approximately 1,200.


Diagram 15. Assembly and order of march, procession to Arlington National Cemetery. Click on image to view larger scale diagram.

Diagram 15. Assembly and order of march, procession to Arlington National Cemetery.

Scheduled to march as part of the cortege was a special honor guard composed of the Army Chief of Staff and Vice Chief of Staff, the Commandant and Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Chief of Naval Operations and his Vice Chief, the Air Force Chief of Staff and Vice Chief of Staff, and the Commandant and Assistant Commandant of the Coast Guard. Unable to be present, General Matthew B. Ridgway, the Army Chief of Staff, later appointed General John E. Hull, then temporarily assigned to General Ridgway's office before retirement, to represent him. Also to march in the cortege were the Secretary of Defense and the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

On 18 April all march units assembled in the vicinity of Constitution Avenue and 15th Street by 1100, the starting hour of the procession. Each group had been


Diagram 16. Route of march to Arlington National Cemetery. Click on image to view larger scale diagram.

Diagram 16. Route of march to Arlington National Cemetery.


Photo: Caisson followed by caparisoned horse enters the cemetery.

Caisson moves through the cemetery, below.

Photo: Caisson moves through the cemetery.


assigned a point of assembly on the avenue or on intersecting numbered streets in a design that would allow each to join the column in proper march order. (Diagram 15) All segments of the cortege were on 15th Street, above and below Constitution Avenue. The caisson itself was sited north of the avenue for the ceremony of transferring General March's casket from the hearse.

The hearse arrived from the funeral establishment shortly before 1100. As the casket was shifted from the hearse to the caisson, the military escort, commanded by General Stokes, presented arms, and the US Army Band, located in the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 15th Street, sounded four ruffles and flourishes and played a hymn. The procession then moved off in quick-time cadence, proceeding west along Constitution Avenue, south on 23d Street, and across Memorial Bridge toward the Memorial Gate of the cemetery. (Diagram 16) A flight of jet aircraft had been scheduled to pass overhead as the mile-long column crossed Memorial Bridge, but poor flying conditions forced a cancellation.

Not all of the escort entered the cemetery. General Stokes had designated the intersection of Memorial Drive and Arlington Ridge Road, just outside Memorial Gate, as a regulating point where the artillery battery, the company of armor, the US Marine Band, the company of servicewomen, and accompanying police were to leave the procession and march south and north on Arlington Ridge Road. After these units left and the remaining units closed intervals, the procession moved toward the grave at reduced cadence via Roosevelt, Weeks, and Sheridan Drives.

Waiting at the grave was a large group of military, civilian, and foreign dignitaries headed by Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Also in attendance were representatives of the Society of the Cincinnati, the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, to all of which General March had belonged.

When they reached the grave, the US Military Academy cadets, who had been marching in a column of companies, massed as a battalion, while the company of infantry, company of marines, company of bluejackets, and squadron of airmen formed a composite armed forces battalion. The Army Band also posted itself at the grave. Already present were the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, Mr. John C. Metzler, and the ceremonial officer and a firing party of the 3d Infantry from nearby Fort Myer. In position at a distance to render a gun salute was the 3d Infantry battery; other troops of the 3d Infantry were on station to control traffic and parking.

While the military escort units were taking their positions at the graveside, the honorary pallbearers lined both sides of a cocomat leading from the roadway to the grave. The rest of the funeral party meanwhile left the cars and assembled near the caisson. At a signal from the ceremonial officer, the escort presented arms and the body bearers removed the casket from the caisson. The Army Band sounded ruffles and flourishes and began to play a hymn.


Photo: U.S Military Academy Cadets March in Procession to Arlington National Cemetery.


Brig. Gen. Frank A. Tobey, the Army Deputy Chief of Chaplains, then led the way to the grave and the body bearers followed, carrying General March's casket through the cordon of honorary pallbearers. As the casket cleared the cordon, the honorary pallbearers fell in behind in column, two abreast. The March family and others of the funeral party followed the pallbearers and were guided to graveside positions by Superintendent Metzler.

As the casket was placed above the grave, the Army Band stopped playing and the escort units ordered arms. Chaplain Tobey then conducted a brief service. At its conclusion the military escort presented arms and the battery fired a 17-gun salute. The 3d Infantry delivered three volleys, and immediately after the bugler sounded taps. The body bearers folded the flag that had draped the casket and handed it to Superintendent Metzler, who presented it to the next of kin, the general's widow, who was accompanied by her two sons-in-law, Lt. Gen. Joseph M. Swing and Maj. Gen. John Millikin. This presentation concluded the services for General March.


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