How Should a Flag Be Placed Over a Casket?

When we drape a flag over a casket, it symbolizes the ultimate tribute of honor, respect, and patriotism for those who served their country or lived with patriotic fervor. This practice, rooted in history since the Napoleonic Wars, carries deep significance.

This guide delves into the appropriate procedures for flag placement over a casket and explores the traditions and meanings behind this honored practice.

The Historical Significance of the American Flag

The American flag, known as “Old Glory,” is a powerful symbol of freedom, courage, and the American spirit. Designed under the guidance of Betsy Ross, its colors—red for valor and hardiness, white for purity and innocence, and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice—reflect the core values of the nation.

Draping this flag over the caskets of military personnel and patriotic civilians is a revered tradition that honors their commitment and sacrifices.

Who Is Eligible for This Honor?

  • Eligibility Criteria: This honor is reserved for military personnel, veterans, and patriotic civilians. While the military provides flags for its personnel and veterans at no cost, patriotic civilians are required to procure their own flags, emphasizing the inclusive nature of this tribute.

  • Military Funeral Traditions: Rich with tradition, military funerals include the firing of three volleys and the playing of “Taps,” each act filled with symbolism. The flag’s role in these ceremonies underscores the nation’s deep gratitude and the deceased’s noble service.

The Protocol for Flag Draping

  • Closed Casket Protocol: Placement of the flag on a closed casket ensures the union (blue field) is at the deceased’s head and over the left shoulder, symbolizing their service and patriotism.

  • Half Couch (Open Casket) Protocol: For half-open caskets, the flag is arranged in three ten-inch layers, with the union as the top layer, maintaining the flag’s dignity during the viewing.

  • Full Couch (Open Casket) Protocol: In fully open caskets, the flag is folded into a triangle and placed above the left shoulder, honoring the deceased while respecting the flag’s symbolic importance.

Presentation and Handling of the Flag

The ceremony’s culmination sees the flag carefully folded into a triangle, a gesture symbolizing the nation’s appreciation.

This flag, presented to the next of kin, embodies gratitude for the deceased’s dedication and sacrifice, echoing a unified message of thanks from the armed services.

  • Respecting the Flag: During the Ceremony: The flag’s dignity is paramount, ensuring it never touches the ground as a sign of respect.

  • After the Ceremony: The flag is respectfully removed and folded before the casket is lowered, a crucial step to maintain its symbolic integrity.

  • Reuse of Funeral Flags: The question of reusing funeral flags sparks diverse opinions. Some advocate for its continued display as a patriotic gesture, while others believe it should remain folded in honor, reflecting the solemnity of its initial use.

Obtaining a Burial Flag

Veterans and their families are entitled to a burial flag through the VA, a symbol of the nation’s gratitude. This process not only honors the veteran’s service but also underscores the importance of remembering their contributions beyond their lifetime.

Extending Military Funeral Flag Etiquette

The respectful practices of military funerals extend to those of police officers and emergency responders, broadening the scope of this tradition to honor service in various forms.


Draping a flag over a casket is a profound act of national respect, gratitude, and remembrance.

This tradition, enriched with history and symbolism, ensures that the sacrifices and service of the deceased are honored appropriately.

Reflecting on these protocols, we recognize them as not mere formalities but as deep expressions of national pride and collective memory.

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