Military funerals honor a service member’s contributions and the sacrifices they made to defend their country. In honor of the years given to their nation, fallen patriots are granted a burial flag. However, many wonder if it is acceptable to fly the deceased service member’s burial flag after the funeral.
Flying a burial flag is acceptable, both during and after a funeral. The possessor of the flag can choose when and how to fly it. While the flag code doesn’t prohibit flying a burial flag, the fabric is cut large enough to drape over a coffin, which poses logistic difficulties in flying it.
This article discusses what a burial flag is, who is eligible for one, the ceremony associated with the honor, and how loved ones can display the banners. It also provides guidance for requesting burial flags and how to attain replacements.
What Is a Burial Flag?
Burial flags, also called intenment flags, drape the caskets of veterans who served honorably. These are offered as tribute to a veteran’s service at no expense to the family. Dishonorably discharged personnel are ineligible for the honor.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides the flags to veterans who pass in peacetime. However, service members who perished in active duty receive their tributes from their military branch.
The VA produces burial flags to exacting standards and uses only American materials. These flags are made of cotton, unlike the standard nylon Stars and Stripes flags.
Who Is Eligible for Free Burial Flags?
The nearest relation or friend of veterans and service personnel receives the deceased’s burial flag. Burial flags commemorate the sacrifice and dedication of those who served the United States, so they are passed on to those who are most likely to honor the deceased service member.
The flag drapes the coffin or accompanies the urn at the deceased’s funeral. A uniformed representative presents the folded flag to family or near friends of veterans or reservists who:
- Served in wartime.
- Those who perished during active duty, post-May 27, 1941.
- Served after January 31, 1955.
- Served at least one year during peacetime and left the military before June 27, 1950.
- Had a disability caused or exacerbated by their military service that necessitated retiring before serving a year.
- Served as a Selected Reservist in the Philippines and died on or following April 25, 1951.
- Served in the Philippine military forces and perished on or following April 25, 1951.
The country provides flags for service members meeting these criteria free of charge.
How Is a Burial Flag Presented?
Burial flags carry a weight of history and valor. Their presentation ceremony involves multiple sets intended to honor the fallen and their service to the country.
The flag rests over the casket during the funeral. Placement is deliberate; the field of stars rests directly over the left shoulder of the veteran when placed on the casket.
A military bugler plays taps near the end of the ceremony. Following taps, service representatives fold the interment flag.
Burial Flag Placement
The burial flag plays a passive role in most funeral ceremonies. The presence of national colors emulates the old battlefield tradition of covering the fallen with an army’s flag.
Because funerals present the deceased in different ways, the flag too is presented uniquely for each of these three options:
- Closed Casket: The flag covers the entire coffin, with the blue field and stars over the head and left shoulder of the fallen.
- Half-couch Open Casket: When the top half of the casket is opened, the flag is folded into thirds and placed on the closed section of the coffin. The blue field rests to the upper left.
- Full-couch Open Casket: The flag is folded into a triangle and placed above the deceased’s heart for fully opened caskets.
Burial Flag Folding
The folding of the burial flag is an important and reverent ritual. Each crease is precise and symbolic.
Representatives from the military fold the flag 13 times, each crease with its own significance:
- The first fold represents life.
- The second fold symbolizes faith in eternal life.
- The third fold is a tribute to the veteran’s sacrifice.
- The fourth crease represents human frailty and a belief in a higher power.
- The fifth fold honors the United States.
- The sixth crease symbolizes the heart, used to pledge allegiance.
- The seventh fold stands for the military.
- The eighth crease honors the mothers of the fallen.
- The ninth fold is a tribute to women who guide the nation.
- The tenth crease honors the fathers of the deceased.
- The eleventh fold represents glory to the Hebrew faith.
- The twelfth crease represents the Trinity in Christianity.
- The thirteenth fold symbolizes the United States motto: “In God We Trust.”
The folded flag resembles the tri-cornered hats revolutionary war soldiers wore. The blue field should be on top when the folding is complete. The thirteen folds also honor the original thirteen American colonies.
Who Is Presented With the Burial Flag?
The uniformed representative presents the folded flag to the fallen’s nearest connection, either a family member or a friend.
The burial flag presentation follows a line of succession. Officials offer the flag to the primary next of kin in the following order:
- Progeny in order of age, eldest first
- The oldest parent or legal custodian
- Biological or adoptive custodian
- Siblings, eldest first
- Eldest grandparent
- Another living relative
- A close friend
Upon presentation, each branch recites the following phrase inserting their arm of the military: “On behalf of the President of the United States, The United States (military branch), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation.”
The custodian of the flag determines what to do with the tribute.
How Do I Display My Burial Flag?
Flag owners may opt to store the flag in a safe place. However, many want to display the tribute in honor of their fallen loved ones. The United States Flag Code allows individuals to display their burial flags by flying, hanging, or storage in a display case.
Flying a Burial Flag
Burial flags have two brass grommets, allowing owners to fly them.
The flag code, which details the rules for care and keeping of the U.S. Flag, doesn’t prohibit flying burial flags. However, it is essential to remember that flying any flag outdoors results in wear-and-tear and fading.
The folding is very precise and requires a great deal of practice to be perfected. Those who choose to display their burial flags may face difficulties returning them to a properly folded state.
The size of a burial flag poses a complication for flying. These tributes are 5 feet by 9 ½ feet (1.5 meters by 2.9 meters) versus a standard American flag which measures 3 feet by 5 feet (0.9 meters by 1.5 meters). To fly an interment flag, make sure the flagpole measures 20 to 25 feet (6.1 to 7.6 meters).
Outdoor display is not prohibited, but it is not ideal. Burial flags are made of cotton, which is easily damaged by outdoor elements. The weather causes fading and other damage to the fabric.
Hanging a Burial Flag
Keeping a burial flag indoors mitigates the effects of weather and outdoor conditions. The banner will maintain its color and structure better if kept inside.
Hanging the flag on a wall is an alternative means of displaying a burial flag. The fabric must lay flat, but can be hung horizontally or vertically, provided the stars remain in the upper left-hand corner.
Burial Flag Display Cases
Display cases provide a beautiful and respectful means of preserving your flag. Flag owners can buy or build triangular display cases.
The folded flag measures 24 inches across the bottom, 16 and three-quarters inches diagonally, and two and three-quarter inches wide. Boxes must accommodate these dimensions.
The stars on the blue field should always be kept in the upper left-hand corner.
Bought Display Cases
A wide variety of physical and internet stores sell burial flag display cases.
Bought display cases come in a wide variety of styles. Shadow boxes range from simple and exclusively for the flag to elaborate, with room for medals and certificates. Some companies personalize the display cases upon request.
The boxes come in a variety of styles and prices, sure to accommodate every budget.
Homemade Display Cases
Carpenters may also opt to build their own display cases. Check out this page for helpful tips for crafting your own flag case.
Building your own flag case is a ruminative process, allowing you to feel connected to your loved one by investing time and care into creating something precious to hold their tribute to. The process is simple and streamlined. While homemade display cases aren’t as ornate as store-bought ones, they carry a personal connection.
How Do I Request a Burial Flag?
The family of the deceased must request the burial flag from the VA. Handling funeral arrangements is an overwhelming process, and the Office of Veterans Affairs aims to simplify ordering a burial flag.
You can request your burial flag by filling out the application for a United States Flag for Burial Purposes. Most funeral directors are happy to assist family and friends complete the request form.
Requestors should give the completed application to any of the following:
- A funeral director.
- A VA Regional Office.
- Eligible U.S. Post Offices.
Not all post offices carry burial flags, so requesters should check their local branch’s eligibility prior to turning in the form. However, non-eligible post offices will direct you to branches that carry the flags.
The VA only issues one flag per family. Multiple relatives shouldn’t request the honor.
Those who receive damaged or defective flags should return them to the post office that issued them for a replacement.
Can Burial Flags Be Used at Civilians’ Funerals?
While we primarily associate burial flags with military funerals, the national colors aren’t limited to service members.
Patriotic civilians can honor their love of country with burial flags. However, the next of kin purchases these flags. The VA only issues free interment flags to veterans.
Many stores sell uniquely sized burial flags. The flags usually cost between 50 and 150 dollars, depending on the shop.
The ceremony should explain the presence of the flag, establishing that, while the deceased never served, they harbored a great love of their country.
You may be able to purchase burial flags at the following places:
Can I Request a Replacement Burial Flag?
Flags need to be replaced for a variety of reasons. They may get damaged, stolen, or simply lost. Unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs only allows one flag per service member. Those in need of a new flag should not despair. Reach out to local veteran and community organizations. These groups strive to replace damaged, stolen and lost burial flags.
Can I Donate the Burial Flag?
The flag may be a painful reminder to you, or you may have inadequate space to display it properly. Perhaps you just feel it would serve better elsewhere.
Whatever the reason, the flag honors someone valued and should be treated with care and love. Keeping it isn’t required; honoring it is.
The following organizations accept donated burial flags:
- Stars For Our Troops
- National Cemeteries
- Local cemeteries
Organizations and cemeteries primarily use the flags on national holidays. The groups fly the donated flags, so ensure the contribution is in good condition. The Flag Code provides guidance on the requisite status of the flag.
A burial flag is a beautiful way to commemorate a loved one’s contribution to their country. The tributes can be displayed in a variety of ways. Flag owners should adhere to the dictates of the U.S. Flag Code.
Those eligible for the honor can request one flag as a tribute to their loved ones. The national colors should never touch the ground or be intentionally damaged. However, flying them from an appropriately sized flagpole is allowed and, indeed, a worthy tribute.