Military Funeral Flag Etiquette

If a member of your family has passed away and was in the military, they are eligible for military funeral honors. Military funeral services celebrate and recognize the contributions made by a serving or retired military person. As long as the service member was not dishonorably discharged or engaged in a capital offense, the service member’s rank or status on active duty is irrelevant.

Military Funeral Flag Etiquette

An essential component of showing respect for deceased and retired military men and their families is awareness of how the American flag is utilized at funeral rituals. For a family going through one of their most challenging days, receiving these honors can mean the world.

Here’s everything you should know about flag etiquette at military funerals.  

The History of Military Funeral Flags

The American Flag represents more than just lofty liberties and ardent patriotism. It is also a significant national expression of respect, admiration, gratitude, and appreciation for all members of the American armed forces, past and present, especially those who have made significant sacrifices for the country on the battlefield or in other contexts.

History of Military Funeral Flags

Flags play an important role in funeral ceremonies for deceased or honorably discharged warriors all around the world, and military funerals in the United States of America have traditionally included flags.

During the Napoleonic wars in the late 1700s, it became customary to drape an American flag over a deceased veteran. Flags were first used to cover them to make the dead on a battlefield easier for both sides to recognize. This custom is now used to remind surviving family members and friends of the deceased’s military service instead of being connected to battle.

Since the Napoleonic Wars, draping the veteran’s casket has become customary before presenting it to the surviving family members. When the American flag is folded, the stars point upward to serve as a visual reminder of the country’s slogan, “In God We Trust.”

“Military funeral celebration

The military burial flag ceremony represents the respect shown to both the living family and the deceased. The ceremony commemorates the sacrifice made by the family and the departed veteran for their country. The most prominent customs in a military burial service are as follows:

1. The military funeral flag is usually draped over the deceased’s coffin, its stars covering the side of the coffin closest to the left shoulder.

2. A horse-drawn caisson is used to transport the casket for specific members of certain ranks.

3. Three rifle volleys are fired once the casket arrives, signifying that their guns will no longer cause harm. Exactly three rounds are fired simultaneously.

4. Another custom is to play the Taps. A bugle call known as “The Taps” is usually performed around midnight.

5. The flag is removed from the coffin after the musical interlude, and a folding ceremony follows.

6. Each of the 13 folds on the military burial flag has a special significance. The flag is delivered to the military chaplain after being folded. The chaplain then goes to the relatives and offers the flag and condolences.

7. An officer will then bow down and say:

It is my great honor to give this flag to you as a representative of the U.S. service branch. Let it stand as a testament to how grateful this country is for the heroic service your loved one provided to us and our flag.

Etiquette for Military Funeral Flags

Below are the typical flag etiquettes for military funerals.

Covering the casket with the flag

Covering the casket with the flag

Serving members and veterans who have passed away have a flag of the United States draped over their coffin in recognition of their service to the nation.

Only when used as a funeral cloth over the coffin of a veteran who has served the country honorably in uniform does the field of blue dress invert from left to right. The blue canton of the flag with the stars standing in for the states where our soldiers served in service is the part of the flag that symbolizes honor.

Casket and flag etiquette

The VA now specifies how the American flag ought to be flown when a deceased person is placed in a casket:

•Closed casket: The union (blue field) should be at the head and over the deceased’s left shoulder when the American flag is used to drape a closed casket. One may say that the departed person who served the flag in life is being embraced by the flag.

• Half couch casket: When the American flag is used to cover a half-couch coffin, it should be arranged in three layers such that the blue field is the top fold, adjacent to the open part of the coffin on the deceased’s left.

• Full couch casket: The flag should be folded into a triangle and put in the center of the head plate of the casket cap, right over the deceased’s left shoulder, when used to drape a full-couch casket.

In the case of cremation, the flag will be folded into the traditional triangle can be placed next to the cremated remains during a service.

Folding the flag

To conclude the ceremony, the flag is skillfully folded into the symbolic tricorner shape after the playing of Taps and handed over to the deceased’s next of kin as a memorial.

Folding the flag

The guards make a total of 13 clean, accurate folds. Each of the 13 folds, like every other feature of our country’s most iconic image, has a specific meaning.

Although there are several stories as to why the flag is folded thirteen times, the flag-folding method’s origin and its date are unclear. While some accounts credit an Air Force chaplain stationed at the United States Air Force Academy, others credit the Gold Star Mothers of America. Some historians say it’s a tribute to the initial 13 colonies.

Here’s what each fold represents.

  • The flag’s initial fold represents life.
  • The second fold represents faith in everlasting life.
  • The third fold is done in honor and memory of the veteran who is leaving the ranks and has sacrificed a part of their life to protect our nation and bring about world peace.
  • The fourth fold symbolizes our weaker side; as Christians in America who put our faith in God, He is the one we look to for His heavenly direction both in peacetime and during times of war.
  • The fifth fold pays homage to our nation. Stephen Decatur once said, “Our country may not always be correct in its dealing with other countries, but it’s still our country, whether right or wrong.”
  • The sixth fold represents the location of our hearts. We firmly swear allegiance to the American flag and the republic it represents: a united, indivisible nation based on the principles of liberty and justice for all.
  • The seventh fold is an homage to our armed services because it is through them that we defend our nation and our flag from all foes inside and beyond our republic’s borders.
  • The eighth fold honors our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day, and pays homage to the one who crossed over to the greater beyond so that we may see the light of day.
  • The ninth fold is a celebration of female strength. The characteristics of the people (men and women) who have made this nation great have been shaped by their faith, love, loyalty, and commitment.
  • The tenth fold is a homage to the father, who has contributed to his sons and daughters since they were born to defense the country.
  • The 11th fold honors the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and represents the lower section of King David and Solomon’s seals.
  • The 12th fold honors God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost by serving as an image of eternity.
  • The stars are uppermost on the 13th and final fold, which serves as a visual reminder of our country’s slogan, “In God We Trust.”

When the flag is fully tucked in and folded, it resembles a cocked hat, constantly reminding us of the soldiers that served with Gen. George Washington as well as the sailors and Marines who served with Captain John Paul Jones, and their shipmates and comrades in the U.S. Armed Forces and who preserved the privileges, rights, and freedoms we have today.

Etiquette for a family presentation

Once properly folded into a triangle, the flag is presented to the deceased’s family on behalf of the nation and the U.S. President. This procedure is crucial to military honors.

These are the typical presentations for various military outfits.

Etiquette for a family presentation

• U.S. Air Force: “Please accept this flag as a token of our gratitudefor the honorable and devoted service of your loved one on behalf of the President, the United States Air Force Corps, and a grateful nation.”

• U.S. Army: “Please take this flag as a token of our gratitude for the honorable and devoted service of your loved one on behalf of the President, the United States Army, and a grateful nation.”

• U.S. Marine Corps: “Please take this flag as a token of our gratitude for the honorable and devoted service of your loved one on behalf of the President, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation.”

• U.S. Navy: “Please take this flag as a token of our gratitude for the honorable and devoted service of your loved one on behalf of the President, the United States Navy, and a grateful nation.”

• U.S. Coast Guard: “Please take this flag as a token of our thanks for your loved one’s service to the country and the Coast Guard on behalf of the President, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and a grateful nation.”

Note: Before 2012, the Department of Defense employed various funeral service languages for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Since then, the language has been standardized. The U.S. Coast Guard has been requested to employ the same terminology.

Who receives the military funeral flag?

Who receives the military funeral flag

The flag is given to the deceased’s surviving family members at the funeral, specifically the next of kin. The family members are usually expected to preserve the flag after receiving it for indoor display in honor of the deceased. Some families donate or provide their flags for national veteran holidays like Memorial Day.

Selection of the next of kin

Active duty troops designate their next of kin prior to deployment, so there’s often no debate over who should receive the flag.

However, in a situation when the next of kin passes away before the service member, the flag will be given to the next person in the hierarchy:

1. The Spouse

2. Children, starting with the oldest.

3. Oldest guardian or parent

4. An adopted relative with legal custody

5. Oldest grandparent

Any relative or close friend can accept the flag in line with the deceased’s domicile certificate if none of these relatives are available.

Handling the memorial flag

Remembering a fallen service person by flying a memorial flag is different ways. Commemorative burial flags are frequently placed over the caskets of members of the armed forces who died in the line of duty, as mentioned above.

Handling the memorial flag

The flags are then taken off the casket and then folded to be given to the family right before burial. (It is crucial to note that burying the American flag is not permitted under congressional code, except when burning a damaged or torn flag would be impractical.

Generally, burning is the sole sanctioned method for getting rid of American flags, and it is formally mandated to happen at a ceremony for retiring the flag. Many Boy Scout troops educate their members to lead these ceremonies and organize them occasionally for people in their community who own old flags to dispose of.

The options for using the memorial flag are practically limitless once it has been folded into the customary triangle and given to a family. These flags are frequently placed on permanent display vase in a home or other public location, like an office or facility where the deceased had his or her headquarters. Still, they are often only flown again on extremely rare occasions out of respect for the deceased.

Typically, when displayed, they are put in wooden boxes with a plastic or glass protective covering built-in, giving the impression that the flag is being framed.

These funeral flag cases often include a silver or bronze plaque on top that is inscribed with the deceased person’s service dates and, perhaps, their favorite saying. They come with a side box where you can keep medals and other keepsakes.

Does the same military etiquette apply to police officers’ and emergency responders’ funerals?

Flag protocol at police officer funerals dates back to the American Civil War when soldiers who had served their country would join the local police department. So the flag etiquette for military funerals is commonly followed in funerals for police personnel.

When it comes to these procedures, the police chief typically has the last say. Similarly, firefighters and emergency medical technicians can use similar flag rituals at funerals. However, these customs are considerably more recent and are still developing.

Are flags used when letting the family know when a serving military officer dies?

Military personnel are in charge of breaking the terrible news when a life is lost in battle. The veteran’s relatives present the American flag when designated notifiers pay them a visit, saying, “Your son fought bravely.” “Please accept this on behalf of the president of the United States.”

The funeral service is then organized by the military in collaboration with the family and also includes a presentation of the military flag to the deceased’s heirs.

What are the rituals included in a veteran’s funeral?

What are the rituals included in a veteran's funeral

Veterans who have passed away have a flag of the United States draped over their coffin in recognition of their service to the nation. The flag is skillfully folded into the symbolic tricorner shape after the playing of Taps. The next of kin are then given the folded flag as a souvenir.

Frequently asked questions about military funeral flags

What is the size of military funeral flags?

The military funeral flag is 5 feet by 9 feet in size, roughly twice as big as a typical home flag. The American flag is folded thirteen times into a triangle that is 24′′ (bottom) by 16-3/4′′ (diagonal) by 2-3/4′′ during the service, right after TAPS is played.

Who provides the flags?

Veterans who fulfill their service requirements are given flags by the V.A., provided they complete the appropriate forms and the processes of acquiring an American flag that meets military standards.

Regional VA offices and US Postal Service locations typically deliver these flags. However, they will only give one flag to each Veteran; hence, families who want more than one should speak with their nearby funeral home to buy more flags.

Could you open the flag?

Normally, you should maintain the flag folded. But it is perfectly acceptable to raise or fly the American flag, even during a funeral!

To do this, you must either display the flag flat on a wall or fly it correctly from outside a flagpole.

Can you fly the flag?

Legal and historical scholars have differing opinions on this issue. Some believe that once a flag is folded, it should stay that way, while others have come to the conclusion that it is a noble and patriotic manner to commemorate the life of the military service member. The subject is not addressed in the official flag code.

Again, although the flag code does not explicitly address the use of funeral flags, it does not restrict the flag from being unfurled and flown after the funeral service.

How do you fly a flag during a military funeral?

As was already indicated, you can hang the folded flag against a wall, fly it from a flagpole, or show it off in a case. The 5′ x 9.5′ flag should be flown from a flagpole that is at least 20 feet tall because it is much larger than most “home” flags.

You can also use the flag as a wall decoration. Decide whether to hang the flag vertically or horizontally. In either case, the viewer’s perspective calls for the stars to be in the upper-left corner of the flag.

How should I dispose of a surplus funeral flag?

How should I dispose of a surplus funeral flag

There are several ways to contribute flags; alternatively, you might inquire with friends and relatives to see if they would like it. Ask questions at the American Legion, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, or any other nearby veterans’ groups. Do not disrespect the flag in any way. Never forget the insignia that your loved one served under.

How do you apply for a flag?

You’ll have to fill out VA Form 27-2008, Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes, to get a flag. A flag is available at any regional V.A. or U.S. Post Office. The funeral director will typically assist you in getting the flag.

Can a flagged be draped over the coffin of someone who didn’t serve in the military?

Any patriotic person is entitled to request and receive the same honor as military members by having a flag draped over their coffin. However, only individuals who have served in the military are given the flag at no cost. During the service, it would be advised to mention that the flag is draped over the coffin as a symbol of the deceased’s love for their country and patriotism.