When and How to Use the American Flag in Funerals

Using the American flag in funerals is a time-honored tradition and special tribute for U.S. veterans, military personnel, and anyone with a special patriotic devotion to our country. In many circumstances, there may be specific protocols that govern how the flag is handled, used, displayed and presented to family during funerals, celebrations of life, memorial services and military honors. Here are some of the common protocols for using the American flag in these ceremonies:

How is the American Flag Displayed with a Casket?

When using the American flag in funerals, there are traditional ways to drape or adorn the casket. If the casket is closed, it is placed over the casket so the union (the blue field with white stars) is at the head of the casket and over the left shoulder of the deceased. If the casket is half open, with the upper portion of the deceased’s body visible, the flag is placed in three layers to cover the closed half of the casket with the blue field being the top fold nearest the casket opening and to the deceased’s left side. When the flag is used with a fully open casket, it is folded in a traditional triangular shape and placed in the center part of the casket’s head panel above the left shoulder of the deceased.

How is the American Flag Used During Burial?

During burial, the flag is removed before the casket is lowered into the burial vault. It is typically held at each end by two individuals, folded into the traditional triangular pattern and presented to the next of kin. For a veteran or member of the military, the flag is normally folded and presented after the playing of “Taps”, with the presenting military or veteran representative using this standardized language:

“On behalf of the President of the United States, [the United States Army, the United States Marine Corps, the United States Navy. or the United States Air Force (as appropriate)] and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

It is important that the flag never be allowed to touch the ground, nor used to carry anything. Of course, it is also vital that the American flag not be written on, adorned or altered in any way. If a flag has been soiled or is in poor condition, it should be disposed of by burning in a manner that treats the flag with reverence.

How is the American Flag Presented to Family During a Funeral Service?

For a deceased veteran or member of the military, if the flag is presented in the funeral home or during a celebration of life service, a representative from a military- or veterans-affiliated organization may be called upon to present the flag to the next of kin. This presentation may be part of a brief formal ceremony. For deceased non-military personnel, presentation of the flag to the family of the departed may be less formal or even done after the service concludes.

Properly using the American flag in funerals or appropriate military ceremonies is an important and reverent tradition we take very seriously at Stillinger Family Funeral Home. We can assist families to help them understand and take advantage of the use of an American flag in paying tribute to their loved one. To learn more, contact us today at (317) 462-5536.

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