The Army conducted about 7,000 fewer military funeral honors in 2021 than in 2020, according to data obtained by Military.com.
Last year, the service conducted 129,774 funeral honors nationwide and at international locations, according to data provided by Army Human Resources Command.
That's compared with 136,874 military funeral honors conducted in 2020, according to the data.
It's unclear exactly why there was a dip last year. A spokesperson for the command suggested that it's not unusual for the numbers to fluctuate year-over-year, but did not have data from before 2020 readily available.
A Massachusetts National Guardsman who helps provide funeral honors in that state similarly said it's common for the totals to seesaw year-by-year, but offered up some possible explanations for 2021's numbers, including families waiting to hold funerals for various reasons.
"It's always an honor and a privilege for us to provide honors to our deceased Army veterans," Staff Sgt. Steven Armstrong said in an interview with Military.com.
Under a law passed in 2000, military funeral honors are available for service members who died on active duty or veterans who left military service with a discharge status that was anything other than dishonorable.
At a minimum, military funeral honors are performed by two uniformed service members, at least one of whom has to be from the deceased's military branch.
The ceremony consists of folding and presenting the U.S. flag and playing "Taps," either by a high-quality recording or by a bugler.
National Guardsmen perform about 80% of all military funeral honors for the Army, while active-duty soldiers and reservists each conduct about 10%, according to Army Human Resources Command.
While the number of military funeral honors for the Army overall was down last year, Armstrong told Military.com they were up in Massachusetts: 3,871 in 2021 compared with 3,376 in 2020. The New York National Guard also said in December it was on track to perform about 1,300 more funeral honors in 2021 than 2020.
Still, Armstrong said he's heard from some families who are holding off on having funeral services for their loved ones.
In some cases, he said, the delays are weather-related, with families waiting for warmer temperatures. He also said it's common for families to wait on services when they cremate their relatives, either because of weather or because they want to hold off until more family members are available to come to the service.
Asked whether families may be waiting because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Armstrong said he couldn't speculate on that. While 2021 saw COVID-19 vaccines become widely available, with lockdowns largely lifted and people more willing to gather, coronavirus cases and deaths were higher in 2021 than 2020.
Armstrong stressed that the Massachusetts National Guard has accepted all the requests for funeral honors it has received despite the pandemic, though some mitigation measures are in place.
"When COVID happened, the Department of Defense gave the Army the option to cease conducting honors, but the Army decided as a whole to continue with honors," he said. "And basically with that, we were given different protocols to follow, which included wearing masks."