Navy widow's campaign for full honor burials starts in Alaska

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - An Anchorage widow to a Navy veteran is staring adversity in the eye in hopes of improving opportunities for other Navy families, to receive full military honor burials when their loved ones pass away.

Photo courtesy of Dan Ingold.

Folded flags, uniformed pallbearers, Taps and rifle volleys – all nostalgic elements of military funerals. But for some like Kathryn Sharp, who’s husband Creig passed away Sept. 30, these elements are essential to give her husband a proper burial. When she went to apply for Navy coverage of full honors for Creig’s funeral, she was shocked to find the Navy only provides full military honors for certain veterans.

She has since started a public conversation in hopes of warning other Navy families before it’s too late – a conversation being heard all the way in Washington D.C. by Senator Dan Sullivan.

Creig died Sept. 30, and shortly after his death was when her fight against what she perceives as an injustice began.

Creig did not qualify for full honors because he was not a Medal of Honor recipient and he was not in active duty, according to the Navy Region Northwest. This was one of Kathryn’s primary concerns, as she knew her husband wanted, and in her mind deserved, a military burial with full honors. She was also concerned for other Navy families who may not be aware of the distinction.

Navy veterans and retirees like Creig Sharp who did not die in active duty and did not receive a Medal of Honor are entitled to what the Navy Region Northwest refers to as standard honors. Standard honors consist at a minimum of the folding of the American Flag and presentation to family of the deceased and the sounding of Taps by two uniformed soldiers – one of which must be Navy.

According to Katheryn, there is a disparity between funeral requirements for Navy, Marine and Coast Guard as compared to Army and Air Force. Channel 2 was unable to verify that by the time of publication, but it is one of the crucial concepts Kathryn is fighting to change – for more equality between the branches for military coverage of funeral honors.

The Navy Region Northwest says the biggest change in the Navy’s policy happened in 2016, when the Navy was no longer able to use other military services to supplement funeral honors support. There was no change in honors qualifications, which stipulate all eligible veterans/retirees are entitled to standard honors. Full honors, which include a rifle detail, are reserved for active duty and Medal of Honor recipients. However, families wanting to supplement funeral honors are referred to local veteran service organizations, like the American Legion.

These Navy regulations establishing Creig Sharp as qualifying for standard honors left Kathryn without uniformed pallbearers, a rifle volley team, or uniformed color guard to give her husband the official send-off he would have wanted.

“I found out about that policy in my living room when they came to pick up my husband’s body after he died,” Kathryn said. “And the next day I was told again that he would not receive full burial honors. I would get a flag presented, but no pall bearers, no rife volley. It was hard to understand why a 20-year disabled Vietnam veteran retired chief petty officer would not receive military honors.”

Ron Travis, Commander of American Legion Post 35, ultimately sent pall bearers, riflemen and Taps players to see that Creig Sharp received a full honor military burial.

"When we heard about it, we were shocked,” Travis said. “I mean absolutely stunned."

He and the rest of Navy veterans of Post 35 are also concerned that there are varying qualifications for a proper burial – realizing they wouldn’t make the cut for full honors even as a long-time Navy veterans. "Anybody that signed the line is still deserving of the same ending you might say," Travis said.

Forrest Powell, the Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs program manager, said he was also caught unaware.

"Navy Chiefs are the nerve center of the Navy. We're the heartbeat," Powell said incredulously. “And I was very, very disappointed when I heard this from the family."

Powell says it was his duty as a Navy chief to make sure Creig Sharp received full honors, so he and other volunteers got to work, ultimately providing him a burial fit for a 20-year Navy veteran.

Following Creig’s service, it didn’t take Katheryn long to realize there were others going through similar hardships.

“Then I found out there were other people who had their veterans not receive honors,” she said. “And so it became very quickly an issue for all veterans families so they would not have to go through what I was going through.”

Kathryn quickly arranged a meeting with U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan in his Anchorage office. “I’m expressing my condolences about the loss of your husband,” Sen. Sullivan said as they sat down together.

Sen. Sullivan, a member of both the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services Committees, also had no idea about the changes made to Navy funeral honors regulations in 2016.

“And so what is she doing? She’s meeting with her senator, me, to make sure that that doesn’t happen to the next family,” Sen. Sullivan said. “I mean, I find that remarkable. I’m almost like, you know, tearing up in a meeting with someone who’s going through her own grief and thinking about the next family.”

“I didn’t get an opportunity to grieve,” Katheryn said. “Because I was fighting for what’s right.”

Sen. Sullivan now plans to use his clout on the VA and Armed Services Committees to try to do something about it. “We’re gonna’ research it and work with Kathryn to fix it, so this doesn’t happen to another Navy family in Alaska or elsewhere in the country.”

“We certainly want to make sure that other people don’t have to go through what we just went through,” Katheryn said. “That their veterans are honored, and that our country is able to show appreciation for them without some regulation stopping that.”

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