By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Heidi Cheek
Dennison has been a brass player for decades, and initially volunteered for the Funeral Honors detail program to put his experience to use as a ceremonial bugler. He soon began rendering taps and folding the flag to be given to the next of kin.
In 2013, he began three-year orders as the NOSC Cincinnati Funeral Honors Coordinator where he was responsible for communicating with next of kin and funeral homes, and assigning volunteer Sailors to perform honors within a 300-mile radius of the Reserve center across Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
Learning more about the life of the veterans he honors has become one of the most meaningful parts of the program, Dennison said. “I am fascinated to learn about the experiences of these Sailors. Performing funeral honors becomes a living history.”
Two of the most memorable funeral honors he participated in were for two Sailors killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor aboard USS Oklahoma at the start of WWII. Recent advancements in DNA testing enabled the Department of Defense to identify remains from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and return the Sailors’ remains to their families for burial.
He has also performed services for pilots who fought in the Battle of Midway, and organized and performed honors for Dr. Henry Heimlich, the inventor of the Heimlich maneuver. Dennison says that performing in these ceremonies were some of the proudest moments of his career.
“The Navy never simply shows up to a funeral service uninvited; we are requested,” he said. “I feel we add honor and ceremony to the service that the family will remember.”
As a civilian, he also performs ceremonies and funerals for law enforcement and military personnel. Since 2000, he has volunteered as a band member with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office Pipe and Drum Corps. One memorable ceremony he participated in was for Astronaut and former Navy Reserve Lt. j.g. Neil Armstrong at the Armstrong Chapel in Indian Hill, Ohio.
Over the years, Dennison has performed nearly 1,800 ceremonies and plans on continuing this important and rewarding service for many more years to come.