Any man or woman who honorably serves this nation is entitled to a flag-draped coffin or urn. At no cost to the family of the deceased, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs presents every veteran with a burial flag to commemorate the dedication and sacrifice it takes to defend freedom. The American flag is very meaningful to veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, and each flag is given as a keepsake to the next of kin. Any funeral, graveside service, or memorial demands the utmost respect and decorum. Military traditions are highly dignified. In this guide, we explain the basics of American flag gravestone etiquette, so you know what to expect when it’s time to fold and drape the flag.

American Flag Gravestone Etiquette

The service of those who protect our nation is held in high regard by the U.S. government. When a burial flag is given to the next of kin, the V.A. fully anticipates and trusts that the flag will be folded in a suitable manner. Every fold of the burial flag represents a different meaning. Collectively, those meanings derive from traditional Christian principles.

The V.A. provides several rules pertaining to flag etiquette:

  • A flag should not be lowered into a grave or touch the ground.
  • A flag should never be used as a covering for a statue or monument.
  • A flag should never be used in such a way that will allow it to be torn, dirtied, or damaged.
  • A flag should not have anything placed on it, attached to it, or marked on it.
  • A flag should never be used to hold or carry anything.
  • Any flag that is worn, torn, or dirtied should no longer be publicly displayed but privately destroyed.
  • A draped flag should be held over the casket by the pallbearers.

By the time the song “Taps” ends, the American flag should be folded in the correct way, a symbolic tri-cornered shape that’s folded 13 times on the triangles as a way of representing the 13 original colonies. Burial flags are also steeped in symbolism – resembling the hats of colonial soldiers and being folded in such a way that the red and white stripes fit neatly into the blue stripes, signifying the light of day vanishing into the darkness of the unknown. If the flag is used to drape a closed casket, it should be placed so that the union (blue field) is at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased. If the flag is used to drape a half-couch casket, it should be placed in three layers to cover the closed half of the casket. When the flag is used to drape a full-couch casket, it should be folded in a triangular shape and placed on the center part of the head panel of the casket cap, just above the left shoulder of the deceased.

Begin folding the flag by holding it waist-high with another person so that the flag’s surface is parallel to the ground. Fold the lower half of the stripe section lengthwise over the field of stars, all while holding the bottom and top edges. Fold the flag again lengthwise, so the blue section stays on the outside. Make a triangular fold by bringing the striped corner of the folded edge to meet the open edge of the flag. Turn the outer point inward until it is parallel to the open edge. Continue to fold until the entire flag is folded lengthwise in this manner. After folding, only a blue field of stars should be visible. Now that you know more about the etiquette of American flags and veteran services, we hope that you explore the possibility that you or a loved one might be eligible.