Cpl. Michael P. Ryder
Marine Barracks Washington
Ijoined the Marine Corps I think out of a sense to serve. I enlisted
at 25, after trying college and
deciding I just wasn’t ready for it at
I went to boot camp at Parris
Island and then to the School of
Infantry and now serve at the
Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, D.C., as a body bearer for
the funerals of Marines or their
spouses. I am finishing four years
in the Corps.
The majority of bearers are
taken straight out of infantry
school. They pick you on the requirements that they see, a [height]
minimum of 6 feet and a basic
strength test, that is 10 reps of 225
[pounds] bench press, 10 reps of
135 military press, 10 reps of 115
curl, 10 reps of 315 squat. The
majority of us were at one time athletes. I was a football player.
Right now, we have 13 body bearers and five students. We support
Arlington National Cemetery and we
also support the National Capital Region, and, when called upon, which
is a little more rare, we do travel.
Just recently, we traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., to do
1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman’s funeral. He’s a Medal of
Honor recipient who they just recently repatriated his
remains. [Bonnyman received a posthumous Medal of
Honor for heroism on Tarawa in World War II. His
burial site was lost, but his remains were among 37 dis-
covered and identified in 2015.]
To meet the needs of the Marine Corps, to be sent
here, it is a blessing. It’s outside what you choose to do,
since most of us are infantry.
When you begin to do the funerals, it’s a different
animal altogether. You become a perfectionist. Words
like “service” and “honor” really take on a new meaning, because you get to see the families on their worst
day. You get to put in a helping hand to help them get
over their losses.
We average three to five funerals a day, 15 to 25
weekly. We have two teams, black team and the gold
team. We get an administrative week off in which we
kind of stand down and mostly recharge and do whatever our command needs of us, medical and all that stuff.
Arlington becomes a national memorial on weekends.
So we work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday
It is becoming exceedingly rare for the World War II
remains to come in, but it’s a blessing to be part of
those funerals. It’s always very special. The Korean War
and Vietnam War are the Marines we’re primarily see-
ing these days. We’re lucky to not be doing as many
Section 60 funerals, the young Marines killed in action
[KIA], as we have done.
It’s hard to distinguish between funerals. Everyone’s
going to touch you in different ways. But, the recent
KIAs are always the hardest — the 19-year-olds who
Cpl. Michael P. Ryder, front right, and Marines from Marine Barracks Washington
participate in the funeral of Medal of Honor recipient 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman
in Knoxville, Tenn., Sept. 27.