After the death of a loved one, it can bring peace and comfort to make a donation. Whether that donation is in the form of your time, money, or other symbolic gesture, this is a powerful way to find light in a darker time.
In the case of military funerals, many families choose to donate a burial flag for a veteran funeral or memorial service.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Is a Veteran’s Burial Flag?
- Where Can You Donate a Veteran’s Burial Flag?
- Steps for Donating a Veteran’s Burial Flag
- What Happens to Flags Draped on Coffins or Urns?
Every qualified veteran is given a flag for the burial service. This often includes a military funeral flag presentation, and the flag is presented to the next-of-kin. These flags are given for free, and they can be donated by both military and non-military families. This is a unique way to honor those who fought for this country.
However, there are a few things to know before you start the process.. Not all flags are acceptable, and you’ll also want to make sure you’re donating to the right charity to put this gift to good use. If you’re ready to give back to your country in a profound way, keep reading.
What Is a Veteran’s Burial Flag?
First, let’s explain what exactly a veteran burial flag is. If you’re not an active service member or never attended a military funeral, you might not realize what purpose this flag serves.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs takes great lengths to ensure every veteran and reservist has a dignified, patriotic burial, cremation, or memorial service. This includes providing a flag, a military headstone, and assistance with these final affairs.
A burial flag is typically used in a military funeral presentation. Active-duty service members perform a specific flag ceremony at the service, draping the flag over the casket or the urn. The family can choose to bury their loved ones with the flag or keep it as an heirloom.
Where did this flag practice come from?
Believe it or not, the practice of including country flags in burials dates back to the Napoleonic Wars between 1795 to 1815. During this war, the dead were carried from the battlefield and were covered with a large flag.
This practice isn’t limited to the United States. Most countries include some kind of flag service to honor the brave people who serve their country. It’s also not limited to those who fall in the line of service. It’s used for anyone who served at any capacity in their lifetime as long as they meet certain requirements.
Where Can You Donate a Veteran’s Burial Flag?
There are a lot of charities that collect flags specifically for veterans funerals. These are always open for donations from the public. You don’t need any association with the military or to be a veteran yourself to donate. Here are some of the best places to donate.
Stars for Our Troops
Stars for Our Troops is a charity that has received over 47,500 usable flags since 2010. They look for three- by five foot American flags, specifically with embroidered stars.
These don’t need to look perfect. In fact, it adds character if they appear handmade, and these are greatly appreciated. To donate, mail your flag to the charity or give it directly to your local National Cemetery.
National cemeteries around the country are always open to donations from the public. You can donate any accurate American flag, and usually, many sizes are needed. Families who have received a veteran flag can also donate these flags to be flown on holidays and special occasions.
Last but not least, many local cemeteries are also open to donations. They use memorial flags on veterans memorials, special patriotic holidays, and national occasions. Check with local cemeteries in your area to see what flags they need.
Steps for Donating a Veteran’s Burial Flag
Before donating a veteran’s burial flag to be used at a cemetery or in a veteran flag service, make sure you follow the steps below. This ensures your flag won’t go to waste.
Step 1: Ensure your flag is usable
Not all flags are usable. In the United States, there are strict rules about which flags can and can’t be flown in a professional, patriotic setting. This is true for veteran flags as well. Review the general rules around the United States' flag code for specific information on how to handle the flag.
Ensure your flag is free from damage, accurate, and the proper size. If your flag is too damaged and ready to be donated, don’t fret. You can still donate it to Stars for Our Troops, who will respectfully dispose of any unusable flags.
Step 2: Package it properly
If you’re mailing your flag, it’s important to handle this task with respect. Because the American flag has a long, rich history, it’s important to package it properly to avoid disrespecting its heritage and the service members who protect it.
There is a “correct” method for folding the U.S. flag, and it’s simple enough that anyone can do it. There are many how-to tutorials online, and you can use this guide from the Veterans of Foreign Wars website. The goal is to create a clear, orderly triangle fold.
Step 3: Check in with your organization
Last but not least, check in with your organization or local cemetery to ensure they’re putting the flag to use. Occasionally, they can’t use the flags sent to them. In this case, they’re disposed of respectfully or returned to the owner.
No matter how someone puts your flag to use, know that it’s the gesture that matters. Whether it waves high on Veterans Day or for honoring fallen veterans, it’s a gift.
What Happens to Flags Draped on Coffins or Urns?
Many people are confused about what happens to the flags that are draped on coffins or urns during a memorial service. There is no reference to this in the official U.S. flag code, so it's actually up to the individual family’s interpretation.
However, there are a lot of opinions around this practice. Some believe that once a flag has been folded after being used in a service member’s funeral, it’s to remain folded forever. Others believe it’s acceptable to display the flag as a way to honor the individual’s patriotism. Casket flags are much larger than house flags, so they’re not usually practical to reuse.
That being said, many organizations are open to repurposing these flags or using them to honor those buried in a national cemetery. Ultimately, it’s up to the family how to proceed with a veteran’s flag after it’s been used in a service or funeral.
Honor Someone’s Service After Death
If you’re looking for a way to honor your country and the service members who fight for it, donating a veteran burial flag is a great way to do so. Whether you donate a flag used in a previous service or donate a flag to be used for a fallen veteran’s funeral, you’re doing an invaluable service.