Betsy Ross and the American Flag

FAQ part 1: General questions

FAQ part 2: Displaying the flag

FAQ part 3: Half staff; Half mast

FAQ part 4: Funeral flags

Please note: Our site contains the flag code in its entirety and dozens of answers to a very wide array of questions. We hope the information we have provided will be a useful resource to visitors. We are not expanding this section and cannot answer specific questions regarding the flag code and its interpretation.

Funeral Flags

Is it okay to fly a flag that was used to drape a coffin?

The Flag Code makes no reference to this use. There is a difference of opinion. Some feel that once folded, it should remain so forever. Other experts feel that it would be an honor to display the flag again to show patriotism. Casket flags are 9-1/2'x5' which is almost twice larger than the usual 5'x3' house flag.

How do you drape the flag on a casket?
opencasket
  • Closed Casket: When the flag is used to drape a closed casket, it should be so placed that the union (blue field) is at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased. It may be said that the flag is embracing the deceased who in life has served the flag.
  • Half Couch (Open): When the flag is used to drape a half-couch casket, it should be placed three layers to cover the closed half of the casket in such a manner that the blue field will be the top fold, next to the open portion of the casket on the deceased's left.
  • Full Couch (Open): When the flag is used to drape a full-couch casket, it should be folded in a triangular shape and placed in the center part of the head panel of the casket cap, just above the left shoulder of the deceased.

During a military commitment ceremony, the flag which was used to drape the casket is held waist high over the grave by the pallbearers and, immediately after the sounding of "Taps," is folded in accordance with the instructions given at the top of this page.

This custom began during the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1815). The dead carried from the field of battle on a caisson were covered with a flag.

A casket flag is 9-1/2' x 5'.

Sources: Application For United States Flag For Burial Purposes 21-2008 | Customs (Arlington Cemetery)

My father was very patriotic, but didn't serve. Can his coffin be wrapped in a flag?

It is appropriate for any patriotic person to make and be granted the same honor as military to have a flag drape the coffin. Only those who served in the military, however, are provided the flag for free. It would be recommended that during the service that it be explained that the flag is draping the coffin as an expression of the deceased's patriotism and love of country.

The flag for one who dies on active duty is provided by one's branch of service. Flags for other Veterans are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Civilians must purchase the flag at their own expense.

My father, a war veteran, requested that he be buried wrapped in a flag.

There is a tradition to bury a war veteran with a small flag or should it be requested, it is proper for a veteran to be buried with his or her body wrapped in the flag.

Source: USAF Honor Guard Basic Protocol, Honors, and Ceremonies L5AZO8G000 [pdf]

For more information about veterans' funerals, click here.

Last October our granddaughter's paternal grandfather died. After the flag was folded, the soldier tucked three spent cartridges in with the flag. What is the meaning of the three cartridges?

According to Major Robert A. Lynn, USMCR, the three spent cartridges are symbolic. During a lull in battle, both sides would fire three volleys each and then would remove their dead from the field of battle.

What are the funeral protocols for a veteran who has died?

To honor the memory of their service to their country, a United States flag drapes the casket of deceased veterans. The field of blue is at the head and over the left shoulder. After Taps is played, the flag is carefully folded into the symbolic tricorner shape. The folded flag is then presented as a keepsake to the next of kin (see below). Each branch of the Armed Forces uses its own wording for the presentation:

U.S. Air Force: "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of (Service Member's rank and name)."

U.S. Army: "This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service."

U.S. Coast Guard: "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and the Coast Guard."

U.S. Marine Corps: "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and Corps."

U.S. Navy: "On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to this Country and a grateful Navy."

If the next of kin wishes (ask first), add: "God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America."

At the end of the ceremony, the flag is presented to the next of kin (see next), usually by the military chaplain.

Primary Next of Kin (PNOK)

  1. Spouse
  2. Sons or daughters in the order of age, oldest first
  3. Oldest parent, unless legal custody was granted to another person
  4. Blood or adoptive relative granted legal custody
  5. Brothers or sisters in the order of age, oldest first
  6. Oldest grandparent
  7. Other relative in accordance with laws of deceased's domicile
  8. Close friends and associates

Note: If the deceased was serving on Active Duty, he/she would have appointed a PNOK in writing, for notification.

Flags for Veterans

Flags are provided for burial services of Servicemembers and Veterans. The flag for one who dies on active duty is provided by one's branch of service. Flags for other Veterans are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

See Laws Relating to Funeral Honors for more information.

Flag code FAQ part 3: Half staff; Half mast


Click for Flag merchandise



Click for Flag merchandise



Click for Flag merchandise