How To Fold and Display an American Flag on a Casket

The folding and display of the American flag is a cherished tradition among deceased military members and their families. But while many of us have seen the process, few know how to do it correctly. Groups like ROTC teach the correct steps to their recruits, yet civilians are often lost when they try to follow along. 

Here’s how to correctly fold and display the American flag on a casket:

  1. Straighten the flag. 
  2. Do the first folds. 
  3. Make a triangle.
  4. Leave it blue. 

The meaning behind the flag-folding ritual is fascinating. It entails honoring our fallen troops and the loved ones who stood by their side through their sacrifice. Read on to discover not only how to fold and display the flag on a casket but why we do so today. 

How To Fold a Flag on a Casket

Were you ever on Flag Crew in Elementary School? If so, you would have been taught the proper way to fold an American Flag, a specific process that must be followed each time. Let’s explore each of the constituent steps a little further.

1. Straighten The Flag 

The first step involves straightening the flag. Begin by holding the flag by each corner between two people. Then, step backward until straightened, holding it up at approximately chest level. Try to keep the flag as smooth as possible during this step. 

2. Do the First Folds 

Perform the first fold lengthwise, making it into a thin strip. Follow this by folding it a second time in the same way. The stars and blue should still be visible on the top. If the flag is large, you may have to fold a third time. At this point, you should have four rows of stars exposed. 

3. Make a Triangle

At the striped end, fold the corner on the left inward until the edges touch, creating a triangle point. The edge should be a smooth line without overlapping the fabric. 

Take the same side and fold it again, making it a triangle with each fold until you reach the union section. The stripes will be tucked so only the stars are visible. This will resemble a tricorn hat, such as was worn during the Revolutionary War. 

4. Leave It Blue

A properly folded flag will show only the blue union portion with stars, set in a triangular shape, with all stripes covered underneath. Once it has been folded, the flag can be presented to the deceased’s next of kin. 

FAQ: Displaying and Presenting the American Flag on a Casket

There are many traditions, meanings, and rules surrounding the placement of an American flag during a burial. Below are some of the frequently asked questions regarding flag presentation. 

What Do the Thirteen Folds in the American Flag Mean?

Despite many people believing the contrary, there was no specific meaning behind the folding of the American flag described above. Many scripts exist for the different branches of the military and the various branches use them during the folding process. However, these are not always recited, and the folds themselves did not always represent something. 

Folded US flag from veteran s casket and medal

Initially, the folding was done as a means to honor the fallen with a ritual. This lent weight to the presentation, showing care as a sign of respect for both the deceased and their families. Over time, each branch would develop its own script, sometimes several. Organizations such as the Boy Scouts also have one. 

Interestingly, this was a case of the meaning being applied after the initial ceremony had been established. The Department of Veterans Affairs allows families to request a script recitation to fulfill the departed’s wishes or for the family’s preference. The script used depends on the military branch, though some have several, such as the Air Force. 

The thirteen folds in the American Flag mean the following (this is a typical example, and not the verbatim script, ): 

  • Fold 1: The thirteen original states.
  • Fold 2: The fifty stars that represent the fifty official states.
  • Fold 3: The demand for liberty or death.
  • Fold 4: A tribute to those who stand in times of crisis.
  • Fold 5: The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 
  • Fold 6: The Preamble of the United States Constitution.
  • Fold 7: The freedom of religion, speech, the press, and the right to protest.
  • Fold 8: The right to alter the constitution of government. 
  • Fold 9: The blessings given to citizens of the nation.
  • Fold 10: The equality of man.
  • Fold 11: The welcoming of immigrants. 
  • Fold 12: The question of what you can do for your country. 
  • Fold 13: The realization of Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream. 

Most of the above are expressed through famous quotes written by significant figures in American history. This is one of the most popular meanings attributed to the flag’s folds. 

What Do the Visible Stars Signify in the Folded American Flag?

The visibility of the stars on the flag represents the line of The Star-Spangled Banner, “Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” The inspiration behind this lyric was the events of the War of 1812, during the attack on Fort McHenry. 

Symbolically, the visible stars stand for the light in the darkness, our nation remaining strong through crises. The worst may come, but we still stand against adversity. It is one of the most important symbols of presenting a flag to the fallen. 

Why Is the U.S. Flag Folded Into a Triangle?

The U.S. flag is folded Into a triangle since it’s meant to look like a tricorn hat. Worn during the Revolutionary War, the hat was a powerful symbol of the might of the American people and her military. It also shows the perseverance and patriotism shown by those who fought for independence. 

Today, we equate our troops with those who took up arms and defended the right of the United States to become her own country. While we no longer wear these fashions, they remained a part of the uniform for many generations. 

Are Only Military Veterans Entitled to a Folded Flag After Death?

Military veterans are not the only ones entitled to a folded flag after death. The Capitol Flag Program allows Senate and House of Representatives members to present a flag to the next of kin for various exceptional circumstances. 

For example, the family of George Floyd, a man killed during a police swoop in 2020, was honored with a flag by Nancy Pelosi. In addition to this, civilians can have a flag draped over their casket, if chosen, though they would not be given a folded flag as part of the ceremony. Only veterans are given a flag for free; all others must pay for their own.

How Should a Flag Be Placed on a Casket?

The flag should be laid on the top of the casket, surrounding the departed. Draping a flag over a casket has a special meaning. As the deceased lies in their coffin, it is a sign of protection even in death, a form of security. This is what the placement is meant to represent. 

To place the flag over the casket, straighten the flat, holding it between at least two people. The blue union section with stars should be at the top or head and draped over where the left shoulder would be. The strips go down the length of the body. 

he US flag is draped over the casket for Burial after funeral A Honor for a Sailor.

When removed, it should be carefully lifted by at least two people on opposite ends, pulled straight up before stepping to the side to be folded. At no point should the flag ever touch the ground. 

How Do You Display a Folded American Flag?

To display a folded American flag, you can use any container that’s meant only to display the flag or shaped like the triangular folded shape of the flag. For example, you could choose to use a cloth bag, but it has to be triangle-shaped and fitted to show that shape once the flag is placed inside. 

More popular options include boxes or display cases. A box should be triangle-shaped and large enough to place the folded flag without squishing the sides. For medals and other relevant objects, add additional space. These are called “shadow boxes,” once given by sailors to the families of dead crew members. 

A display case is made specifically for flags. Some are small and only display the flag itself, while others are a part of a larger display that includes medals, dog tags, and even uniforms. A shelf can sometimes be included for an urn if the departed choose to be cremated. These are beautiful ways to honor your loved one. 

The American flag can be hung on a wall or presented in a case stretched out, as long as it is right side up with the union stars in the top left corner. However, flags given through a ceremony are inappropriate for this display style. The folding stands as a memorial to those who have passed on. A second flag would have to be procured for hanging. 

Why Is the American Flag Not Allowed To Touch the Ground?

The American flag is not allowed to touch the ground as a sign of respect (it always remains in the air or safely secured) and as a symbol of the nation’s strength. The myth that the American flag must be destroyed if it touches the ground is a common one though incorrect. 

Touching the ground can make the flag dirty. Over time, dirt will break down the fibers of the fabric thus making it unsuitable for display. If the American flag becomes contaminated, it is acceptable to dry clean it so that it doesn’t impact the integrity of the fibers. 

Once a flag has become too ratty for display, it is burned. If the flag touches the ground but is fine, brush it off and continue the folding procedures. If the dirt can’t be easily brushed off, have it cleaned before putting it away. 

How Big Is the American Flag for a Coffin?

There is no specific sizing that must be followed when draping the American flag on a casket, as long as it covers the majority of the coffin without touching the ground. However, the V.A. presents flags to veterans at 5 x 9 ½ feet. 

Using standard sizing for fallen soldiers ensures that all presented flags are uniform. Most stores specializing in flags will offer this as flags designed for caskets, with all others sized for flying on different buildings (homes, flag poles, yard flags, car flags, etc.). 

Can an American Flag Be Buried in a Casket?

There are no official laws that dictate any of the above. Rather, they are guidelines laid out in 4 U.S. Code § 8, also known as the Federal Flag Code. These are recommendations for etiquette as laid out by the Department of Veterans Affairs. They provide a blueprint for respecting the flag and those who have served Old Glory, either as Armed Forces members or as patriotic civilians. 

An American flag cannot be buried in a casket as nothing should be laid over it or obstruct it. Putting it underground would also be considered disrespectful. It would leave the fibers to break down and rot over time, going against the flag’s symbol as a strong, living nation. 

If a flag is buried, this is unlikely to be a punishable offense. But it is important to remember why the presentation and display guidelines exist. Choosing to have a flag presented or draped over a casket signals love for the country and what she represents. It is unlikely that someone who uses an American flag as part of their burial ceremony would want to sully that image. 

An interesting related fact is that having an American flag on apparel or objects is considered against the Federal Flag Code. You may want to think twice before buying that American flag t-shirt.

Final Thoughts

The presentation of an American flag during a funeral is a tradition cherished by many patriots. Specific rules are followed, whether in memory of a fallen service member or to memorialize a patriotic civilian. Check with your funeral director for more information. 


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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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