News / USA

    Horses Escort US Heroes On Final Journey

    A matched team of horses pulls retired Army Col. Robert Gambino's flag-draped casket on a caisson at Arlington National Cemetery.

    For his funeral, the decorated soldier receives full military honors; a gun salute and an escort platoon accompanied by the U.S. Army Band.

    Gambino is being laid to rest at the nation’s best known military cemetery, just outside of Washington, D.C., the final resting place for those who have served on active duty, presidents and other notable Americans.
    A U.S. soldier prepares a horse for caisson duty at Arlington National Cemetery. (VOA/J. Taboh)A U.S. soldier prepares a horse for caisson duty at Arlington National Cemetery. (VOA/J. Taboh)
    x
    A U.S. soldier prepares a horse for caisson duty at Arlington National Cemetery. (VOA/J. Taboh)
    A U.S. soldier prepares a horse for caisson duty at Arlington National Cemetery. (VOA/J. Taboh)
    A riderless horse, another distinction of the soldier's rank, follows behind. The boots in the stirrups face backwards, symbolizing the warrior who will never ride again.

    In order to execute this solemn task, the animals involved must be as disciplined as the United States Army soldiers who work alongside them.

    American tradition

    Caisson horses have performed this sacred ritual for more than 60 years.

    Both the horses, and the men who care for and ride them, have been specially trained. They are members of the caisson platoon of the 3rd United States Infantry regiment, also known as "The Old Guard".

    It’s a tradition that dates back to the early 19th century, when horse-drawn caissons moved men and equipment to and from the battlefront.
    U.S. soldiers polish a saddle for a caisson horse before it sets out for duty at Arlington National Cemetery. (VOA/J. Taboh)U.S. soldiers polish a saddle for a caisson horse before it sets out for duty at Arlington National Cemetery. (VOA/J. Taboh)
    x
    U.S. soldiers polish a saddle for a caisson horse before it sets out for duty at Arlington National Cemetery. (VOA/J. Taboh)
    U.S. soldiers polish a saddle for a caisson horse before it sets out for duty at Arlington National Cemetery. (VOA/J. Taboh)

    “The horses were used to pull those weapons,” Army Sgt. First Class Eric Hayman says, “and also for getting the wounded back to the hospital. Later, it evolved and we didn’t need those anymore and we later turned that duty into caisson duty moving our fallen heroes in Arlington National Cemetery.”

    Distinguishing characteristics

    Forty-four horses are housed at the Caisson Barn at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, adjacent to the cemetery.

    It takes several hours for each team to be prepared, groomed and made ready for these special occasions.

    Hayman is responsible for the health and welfare of the whole platoon of horses, as well as the soldiers.  

    When it comes to horse selection for the caisson platoon, he looks for a “cool temperament, good, easy-going characteristics typically found in bigger draft horses.”
     
    But there is something more that distinguishes these animals.

    “They’re highly disciplined, highly de-sensitized, their natural environment is them running around in a pasture grazing and being a horse and then we put them in this environment where they must stay still," he says. "And in a way, render their own honors to the country’s fallen heroes.”
    Caisson horses dry off after their morning showers at the Caisson Barn at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (VOA/J. Taboh)Caisson horses dry off after their morning showers at the Caisson Barn at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (VOA/J. Taboh)
    x
    Caisson horses dry off after their morning showers at the Caisson Barn at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (VOA/J. Taboh)
    Caisson horses dry off after their morning showers at the Caisson Barn at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (VOA/J. Taboh)

    A large part of that discipline comes from their special training.

    According to Hayman, a herd manager and a couple of horse trainers, who are active duty military, work with the horses every day for four months to train them for the funerals.

    “The most important training, for these horses to be part of the caisson wagon, is desensitizing them,” says Hayman. “That is, getting any of that prey instinct out of the horse so when it sees the unfamiliar items out in the civilian life or in society, they don’t get spooked. So we focus a lot on that.”

    Once this funeral is complete, the caisson platoon will quickly begin preparing to accompany the next fallen warrior to his or her final resting place. The Old Guard provides final honors at about 40 military funerals each week.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.