Marines Magazine

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Marine Corps Body Bearers

Lance Cpl. Bradley Young, a Marine Corps body bearer, finishes folding a funeral flag during a practice funeral

Lance Cpl. Bradley Young, a Marine Corps body bearer, finishes folding a funeral flag during a practice funeral Nov. 25. Body bearers carry the remains of fallen Marines to their final resting place in Arlington and surrounding cemeteries in the National Capital Region.

WASHINGTON – It’s an iconic scene: Six men stand together halfway around the world from home and raise a flag on top of Mount Suribachi. When the men returned home, their story of valor on Iwo Jima lifted a nation to its feet in the midst of the turning point of World War II.

Now, more than 60 years later, another six Marines stand tall in the shadow of the Marine Corps War Memorial’s valor as it depicts that iconic scene.

They belong to the group of 13 Marines who carry the caskets of fellow Marines through the streets of Arlington National Cemetery and surrounding National Capital region cemeteries, (sometimes up to a mile,) as the last salute to the fallen members of the 234-year-old brotherhood.

The Marine Corps’ body bearers have one of the most unique duties in the Corps.

Exclusive to the Corps, these Marines carry caskets weighing as much as 800 pounds at shoulder and head level, only lowering at the exact moment of burial. Their pace is deliberate and slow, prolonging the honor that is due to America’s heroes.

As unique as the job, the Marines themselves stand out. The smallest bearer, at six feet tall and 260 pounds, towers over the average Marine. His biceps closely resemble runners’ thighs, and his neck blends evenly with his jaw line. Body bearers remain among the largest Marines in the Corps.

It’s a feat that starts early in the Marines’ training. Beyond the 13 weeks of recruit training, body bearers begin their journey at the school of infantry like any other aspiring infantryman.

Marine Corps body bearers lift a coffin as part a practice funeral

Marine Corps body bearers with Marine Barracks Washington run through a practice funeral Nov. 25 in preparation for the day’s funerals.

Potential bearers are scouted during SOI and once briefed can volunteer to join the “World Famous Body Bearers.”
“The selection process is based largely on a strength test,” explained Cpl. John A. Smurr, a senior body bearer. “Height and weight come into play, but if [potential bearers] don’t have an overall big frame to support the strength needed, they just can’t do the job.”

A training time table is indefinite for those selected. At the Marine Corps’ Ceremonial Drill School, a Marine can graduate in a few months or train for a year to achieve the strength and perfection required to bear a casket.

Smurr suggested each Marine arrive at the school able to bench press a minimum of 225 pounds, military press 135, curl 115, and squat at least 315.

Due to their frame and size, the body bearers have acquired a “meat-head” label, but Lance Cpl. Stephen Brewer, a junior bearer, discredited this idea by explaining, “We’re not meat heads in the gym.

Even more important than your strength [or size], your endurance and stamina need to be top class to carry a casket.”

Cpl. Campoamor Ayala lightens the mood a bit at the gym

Cpl. Campoamor Ayala lightens the mood a bit at the gym Nov. 24.

Body bearers execute hundreds of funerals each year, which requires constant muscle conditioning, and Brewer said stamina, not size, makes a good body bearer.

Still, iron weights are not enough to maintain this critical mission.

“The character qualities of this section are bearing, discipline and respect,” said Brewer. “That is everything the body bearers strive to emulate or to display at all times. That’s what we bring to Arlington every day, and that’s what we live in our lives.”

These qualities don’t exist without continual training.

“There’s a lot of mentoring that goes on between the senior and junior body bearers,” explained Cpl. Campoamor Ayala, a senior body bearer. “If there’s something the juniors don’t know, the senior will teach them as they progress to make sure they carry on the traditions and precision of drill.”

From a statuesque salute as the funeral precession approaches to the stern faces worn at all times, bearing becomes the Corps’ final message of honor and respect to the fallen.

Lance Cpl. Stephen Brewer, a junior body bearer, ensures a fellow Marine’s metals are aligned before a funeral Nov. 25.

Lance Cpl. Stephen Brewer, a junior body bearer, ensures a fellow Marine’s medals are aligned before a funeral Nov. 25.

Bearers said every funeral takes a toll with their emotions, though their face retains the thousand yard stare at all times.
“Not only does this test you physically, but mentally and emotionally as well,” Smurr said. “It is pretty emotionally stressful when you’re out at Arlington every day and you see a family who just lost their loved one.”

Smurr said the body bearers can be that connection for the families back to their fallen Marine. Though that connection wares on their minds during their time as a body bearer, it’s a job they don’t resent, but embrace.

“You can fast forward your life in your mind and see yourself someday being in that position and having six Marines render honor to you and your family in the same way,” he said. “Every Marine we lay down is us, our brother, our sister, our mom and dad, and our friend.”

The consensus of the body bearers is that the physical pain they feel when lifting a casket for extended periods is incomparable to what a family feels.

Body bearers said they feel as though they represent the whole Marine Corps.

“If it was up to me, I’d say ‘let’s have the whole Corps carry the caskets,’ because each time we lose a Marine that’s really who feels it. The whole Corps,” Brewer said.

They agree that pain is a small price to pay to uphold the honor of being “the last to let you down.”

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  • jordan

    Hello I am inquiring if CPL CAMPOAMOR Ayala is still an active body bearer?

  • Mrbill36


  • Johnnyrandles

    As a former tanker from 1st Tanks and Bn. funeral detail member. I only wish that we could have trained like these guys do so we could have rendered the same honor to those who have gone to their final resting place as these Marines do.

    Semper FI brothers
    Johnny Randles
    Cpl. 1997 – 2001

  • Macmclean4

    God bless you my Brothers and I know when it comes time you will be the last ones to let me down.
    Semper Fi.

  • Gem

    I heard about the body bearers from the hospital where I work. I was so impressed with the young Marine who visited his mother – he is goodlooking inside and out… I can feel the great love and respect that he has for his mother and for his job. He showed me a video clip of his friend folding the American flag like he was performing a very sacred ritual. He and his mom also told me about their motto “the last to let you down.”

  • Jasmurr

    Scates im in afghanistan i just read this , good stuff , hope the new family is doing well , love ya brother

  • Paul Ciolino

    A Honorable and solemn duty carried out by outstanding young men who do their brother and sister Marines proud. You are all a credit to or country, your families and yourselves. What you do everyday does not go unnoticed.

  • Merly Frometa

    I am looking for a Victor C. Colon that was serving in the US Interest Section to the Swiss Embassy in Havana, Cuba during 1988-89. Is this is you or you know how to contact him please contact Merly Frometa (aka Merly Escalona via email at . or Thanks!

  • Scates

    CDS is the fire that these Marines are forged in. Well done men. Keep the traditions alive.

    Sgt. Scates (Sgt. Hates)
    Platoon Sgt. World Famous Body Bearers

  • Justin


  • Cpl James Demecs

    Happy 235 yrs Birthday!

  • Cpl James Demecs

    Semper-Fi my brothers especially the new Marine base at Helmand province taking over from the Brits. See you all at the post when you end this war. Cpl J Demecs Ret, 1969-1972

  • Ed Ellis

    Wonderful article,I’m sure that there are many people who do not know of the existance of such a group.
    Thanks to all who served,have served,or will serve in the future !
    I am Capt of the Honor Guard here in Winchester V.A.and know first hand what a wonderful feeling it is to Honor a fellow vet, the family, and the bringing to the final resting place of one of our own.It is indeed
    an honor,one that I and my fellow guardsman take with pride.
    Again thanks for publishing such a wonderful article,hoping that many,many, people will see it and reflect on it.

  • MW Johnston

    My hat is off to these young people who not only serve our country but honor their fellow Marines with respect and diginity. God bless everyone of them.

  • Casey

    My best friend from high school is a body bearer and is actually in one of these pictures! The article is wonderful. I am so proud of these guys!!

  • J. Patrick Buford HSO MPFD

    As the son of Lt. Col. E.A. Buford jr. (USMC), fighter pilot, CO, XO ~ VMF / VMA / VMFA 223, 225, 311, 312, 314, 351, & 461 (21 years of service & presently age 87), HE would be proud of these fine Marines!

    I grew up on Marine bases across America, and lived in quanset (SP?) huts. El Toro, Quantico, LeJuene, Pensicola, Corpus Christi, etc., I have lived, worked, partied, and played with Marines since I was 5 to 56 years of age. I was rejected @ induction Santa Ana, CA, in 1972 due to back surgery. I have ALWAYS regreted not serving my country.

    You mess with the Marines, you are messing with my family as well!

    Finest bunch of men I have ever had the priviledge to be around, ALL OF THEM!

  • Scott Preston

    Many moments with the Marine Corps have made me very proud. This is another one. Thank you Marines. What an honor to say that I am one of you.

  • RM

    thanks for making the world a safer place, gunho!

  • Warren Muldrow, Maj, USMC (Ret)

    I stood a lot of funerals during my days at 8th & I, and had many opportunities to see the Body Bearers in action both on ceremony and behind the scenes. Believe it when they proclaim their motto, “The last to let you down!”

  • Carlos Muro

    It never seems to amaze me on how proud I feel when I read articles like this. To those still in uniform…you shall forever be my brothers (sisters). Stand tall and united we will remain!

    Semper Fidelis,

    WarPig 8
    USMC Retired

  • Victor Colon

    To those of us and those like us!

    Thank you for your service.

    Semper Fidelis,

    Victor Colon, SGT, USMC 86-90

  • Frank Price

    As the father of an ex Marine officer, I was so proud to read this article. After all these years, I still find myself being continually amazed at the honor and integrity that the USMC shows to all Americans every day. After three tours of Iraq, I’m so thankful that my son didn’t have to be a part of this honorable tradition. As an old USAF veteran, I can only say……………Semper Fi

  • R.Y.Booker

    When I joined the Corps in 68, I knew I was joining something special but it took up to and including now to fully understand the impact! Semper Fi is a life style not just words stated. We are a brotherhood of warriors and I’m so glad to be a part of the finest fighting force the world will ever know. My brother, rest his soul, tried to talk me into joining the Navy(his service)but thank God for sibling rivalry! It’s been a hellava ride! Semper Fi ’till I die…OooRah

  • Dick Cusick

    I spent 30 years in the Navy Four tours of which were with the Marines — so yes I bleed a little green too. I can say that after each tour I felt more and more the Ethos of the Corps. It is truly a Brotherhood like no other. God bless the Marines –God Bless all our troops.

  • Linda VanHook

    My husband was on I &I duty as a Cpl. in New Castle,PA. They had to be pall bearers, firing squad, and presentation of the flag. As GYSGT then MGST in Baltimore, He and the I & I staff carried our Fallen Heroes up twenty and thirty steps into the churches.

  • tom

    being a USN Vet, and My son a DOC with 3rd AABN, I definitely have the upmost respect for the best, the elite, the USMC. Their tradition runs deep and is upheld in the highest manner possible. There is no other that compares to the Marines. I salute you.

  • Janice Robinson

    Love to all, and much respect. I am a veteran of the USNAVY. ThankYou all for all u do. The sad thing is I felt what I deserve when I go is a military funural because I have earned it, yes i still have, but after seeing this and what these boys go thru to do there duty to my loved ones for me at my end of days, to put me to rest respectfully THANK YOU SWEETIES!!! GOD BLESS YOU!!!! MY husband is ex Army! Don’t think for a minute what u all do is lost or forgotten, We HONOR YOU ALL!!! I want to say thank you, someday soon I may not have the chance to, but am now. Janice L. (Campbell) Robinson EN3 USN

  • Josh Minix

    Marine Barracks 8th and “I”
    Company B 1st Platoon (Fighting First)
    Company B World Famous Body Bearers (The Last to Let You Down)
    Semper Fidelis

  • Steve Mangan

    Marine Barracks Washington
    8th & I
    Body Bearer
    1986 – 1989
    Semper Fidelis

  • Wayne R. Comtois

    Stationed 8th&”I” Mar’74 – Jul’79, MCI Co 10 mos, the balance in Guard Co, Ceremonial Plt. Body Bearers Section. Reading the article & reflecting back 30+ years ago: Remembering grading MCI lessons, marching in Fri night parades & Tue evenings at Iwo Jima memorial, participating in White House arrivals and State Dinners,several different Bicentenial year ceremonies, President Carter inaugural no one detail or event can compare to being in the Body Bearers, no not one. Practice, practice, lift weights, run, practice some more, being dressed and squared away 1 hour prior to funeral time, standing on the van/bus commuting to our day at the office in Arlington. I am very thankful for the oppertunity to serve as a Body Bearer.The heat, cold, wind, snow, rain would not deter us doing our job & duty. Thanks for the memories, shout out to Whale, SugarBear, BlackBear,Kehan, Bender, Hatti ,Davis, Peaches, Coop,Creekmore, Butts I Love you guys and miss you. “Stumper” Sgt. Wayne R. Comtois, Body Bearer Section Leader ’77 – ’79 USMC 8th & “I” where the tradition never quits
    FORTITUDE: The strength to persist, the courage to endure, We were the last to let you down!

  • Rai R

    These guys are just simply amazing. Thank you for taking care of my brothers and sister of the Corps.

  • James R. Ewen

    Marine Barracks Washington
    8th & I
    H&S Company
    Guard Section
    Semper Fidelis

  • John T. Reim

    I served at the Marine Barracks, 8th & I Sts., SE, Washington, DC … … 1958-1961 and was a member of the Ceremonial Guard Company, Silent Drill Platoon. The Body Bearers Section was part of our company. They were exceptional Marines in those days, just as they are today, only BIGGER! Please visit the 8th & I Reunion Association’s website … . It contains an abundance of 8th & I history and memories. “Semper Fi”

  • Mark Bohrer AZ3 USN

    If the Army and the Navy ever gaze on heavens scenes.
    They will find the streets are guarded by the United States Marines.

    For My Dad who was a Gunney Drill instructor during the Korean Era and also for any of those many Marines who did my floors when they were in trouble: Mopping, stripping and waxing better than any others. There is no such thing as a useless Marine.

  • Joseph A. CUrry Jr.

    Being a Marine is an honor that is not easily earned. It is not just an occupation but a way of life. Marines know and honor the toil and hardships of their brothers. Semper FI.

  • John Murray USMC Ret

    Profound. Generation after generation our Marines continue to honor each other in the most fitting way. I am so proud of the current generation of Marines that have and are serving as well as any before them. I pray as these wonderful men and women return to civilian life that they will assume the leadership roles in their communities that this great nation so desparately needs. They are our greatest hope for the future.

    Nicely done.

  • John Wear – Sgt 1966 – 1969

    Ooo-Rah!!! Thank you men for your service to our country and to our fallen brothers.

    COMMERCIAL: Looking for Vietnam Marine tankers to join the USMC Vietnam Tankers Association. We hold reunions and have a trimester news magazine that is awesome!!!

    Contact me for details.

  • K. Johnson

    Great article. The Corps takes care of its own, like no other organization in the world.

    Aside from the Marines designated for the job at Arlington, reserve units probably take part in more funeral details than any other unit in the Corps, since the responsibility usually falls to the nearest unit to the fallen Marine’s hometown. During my time as a reservist I served on the honor guard in no less than two dozen Marine Corps funerals, for everyone from WWII veterans to a former member of my own fire team, KIA in Iraq. I’ve presented flags to next of kin, done rifle details, and been a pallbearer, and I can attest that pallbearer duty is uniquely challenging, as this article reflects.

    It’s never easy in any case, but Marines bring tradition, bearing, precision, and respect to the job like no one else could ever do, and we do it willingly in the knowledge that no less than the very best we can give is due to a fallen brother. Semper Fi guys, keep up the great work at Arlington.

  • Greg Sims L/Cpl 1967-1969

    No doubt one of the hardest , yet most rewarding jobs in the Corps. Carry On!!!!! SEMPER FI !!!!!

  • Richard E. Poulin Jr.

    Great article. We always take care of our fallen
    CWO-3 USMC (Ret)

  • RD Pease

    The whole time I was a Marine, I never realized that there was a detail such as this. Semper Fi to those Marines who stand up and take up this challenge!

  • Pfc. James A. Wright U.S.M.C

    The Honor of a Marine is Imeasurable,the Brotherhood Divine.The Respect for each other is beyond words.I can only Imagine the Emotion of doing this particular job.It has to take a toll,we are Warriors not stones,and yet I do believe these men do represent all of us,The Past,The Present and Future Marines.

    Gentlemen At Ease.Well Done!!!! Semper Fi!!

  • Fred W. Anderson

    I joined the USMC in 1959 & have been a Marine ever since. It is the largest family in the world. You can take it to the bank, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” Semper Fi & God bless the Corps>

  • Fergs

    Schmidttttyyyy!!! This is how you tell the story brothaaa! IPC is proud of you! Keep it up! – Fergs

  • Manuel R. Espudo

    Dear Jesus, Protect my beloved Corps Semper Fi Brothers and Sisters Semper Fi

  • CR Rains

    Maybe I should have listened to “Coach” and been a Marine instead of a USAF Pilot. What a tradition the Corp has! Thanks for your service.

  • GRMA213

    The Marine Corps doesn’t just build men. The Marine Corps builds big men. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well.

  • Jone & Ruben Franco

    Thank you for writing this article. And thanks to ALL our
    American soldiers! Our son just recently became a Body Bearer.
    We are so proud of him! In our conversations he tells us how touched he is when he sees the family of the soldier they are burying.
    We are also thankful for his faith in Christ, and how he lives his faith. Thanks again. Our prayers are with our soldiers.

  • DJ Furrenes

    GO MARINE CORP I hope to join the marines some day