What Happens During a Military Funeral Flag Presentation?

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Military funerals are an opportunity to honor the life of someone who served the U.S. Armed Forces. The flag presentation is a way to honor a deceased veteran’s memory. Commemorating one’s service to one’s country is an essential military tradition. 

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There is a specific procession for the flag presentation at a military funeral. These presentations are standard for any type of military funeral. They’re an option for soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, veterans, and heads of state.

Military personnel presents the flag to the deceased person’s next of kin as a symbol of respect. In this guide, we’ll break down what exactly happens during a military funeral flag presentation. 

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Preparing for a Military Funeral Flag Presentation

The flag presentation at military funerals is a gift on behalf of a deceased veteran. The flag itself is a symbol of honor. After the ceremony, it’s given to the family as a reminder of the deceased person’s sacrifices. Here’s how you prepare for a military funeral flag presentation for a loved one. 

Who’s eligible for a flag and how do you apply?

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses a set of criteria to decide who is eligible for a flag. In most cases, a burial flag for anyone who served in the Armed Forces. It is not available for those who were dishonorably discharged. 

The criteria are as follows:

  • Veterans who served during wartime
  • Veterans who passed away on active duty after May 27, 1941
  • Any veteran who served after January 31, 1955
  • Peacetime veterans discharged or released prior to June 27, 1950, after serving at least one enlistment
  • Military forces of the Commonwealth of the Philippines while in the service of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Members of the Selected Reserves who qualify

The flag itself doesn't cost the family anything. The VA office gifts the flag to the veteran’s family.  During the ceremony, military officers drape the flag over the casket or urn of anyone who qualifies. To check if you or a family member qualifies for a burial flag, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs directly. 

You can apply for a burial flag with the VA Form 27-2008. This is available on the VA website. Return the completed form to the VA office. From there, local post offices distribute the flags to families. Not all post offices have flags on hand.

Contact your local VA office for more specific information. If you’re working with a funeral home, they’ll have information on how to apply and receive a flag. 

How do you get a burial flag?

Who receives the burial flag after the ceremony? The flag itself is used in the ceremony, and then a military officer presents it to the next of kin. The flag is a keepsake that represents the deceased person’s commitment to his or her country. 

After the ceremony, the immediate family takes the flag home. It’s given to a spouse, sibling, child, or parent. If there is no family next of kin, the VA will give the flag to a friend who requests it. If the burial is in a national cemetery, the flag has the option to be donated. These cemeteries display these flags on patriotic holidays. 

The burial flag is one of the veteran death benefits. If you receive a burial flag for a loved one, be sure to keep it safe. The VA doesn’t replace these flags, but if it’s lost, stolen, or destroyed, local organizations might be able to replace it. Otherwise, each family will only receive one. 

Military Funeral Flag Speeches

It is common for the flag presentation to be a part of the funeral service. Each veteran has the option to have at least two military members conduct funeral honors. This honoring ceremony includes both the flag presentation and the playing of “Taps.” 

“Taps” is a bugle call that’s traditionally played at flag ceremonies. The military version includes only a single bugle or trumpet. This song is also known as “Butterfield’s Lullaby” since it sounds like it’s sending someone off to sleep. Comprised during the Civil War, “Taps” is now known as a military funeral honor song. Though the lyrics are rarely sung, they are as follows:

“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.” 

Before the flag ceremony, fellow servicemen or family members might present a military speech. Reading a eulogy for a veteran is common. These speeches focus on the deceased’s commitment to service, country, and honor. The speech could also touch on who the flag is being presented to and what this presentation means.

During the presentation, the officer kneels in front of the next of kin. As they present the flag, they say “As a representative of the United States service branch, it is my high privilege to present to you this flag. Let it be a symbol of the appreciation this nation feels for the distinguished service rendered to our country, and to our flag by your loved one.” This concludes the flag presentation ceremony. 

Different branches of the U.S. Armed Forces previously had various speeches for these ceremonies. Today, it is standard across the board. Now, all servicemen and women receive the same thanks from a military officer during the ceremony. 

Order of Succession for Receiving the Flag

There are no specific laws for who receives the funeral flag. Once a military officer presents the to the next of kin, the decedent has full freedom over it. The decedent has the option to keep it themselves, give it to another loved one, or pass it down. 

In military tradition, there is a line of succession for the flag. This hierarchy determines who gets the flag if the next of kin can’t receive the flag. The hierarchy is:

  • The spouse
  • Oldest to youngest children
  • Oldest parent or guardian
  • A legal relative with custody
  • Oldest grandparent

If none of the above are available, any friend or family member can receive the flag. This order of succession makes the ceremony simpler for the military personnel. 

Military Flag Presentation Ceremony

The presentation ceremony itself is a sight to see. It’s a show of honor and military tradition. How it’s presented to the recipient is an integral part of the funeral process. 

The flag is first carried to the ceremony on the casket or with the urn. It’s draped over the casket as a visible symbol of honor. In the case of cremation, the flag is near the urn. Next, the folding ceremony takes place. Each of the 12 folds of the burial flag signifies something different about the Armed Forces and military tradition. Some folds have religious symbolism, and others are a symbol of eternal life. 

Once folded and tucked in, the flag has even more meaning. It now resembles a tricorne military hat, similar to the ones soldiers wore under George Washington in the Revolutionary War. The folded flag is finally presented to the military chaplain. This is the person who will then approach the next of kin, presenting the flag with their condolences. 

After the Flag Presentation

What comes after the funeral flag presentation? Once the funeral has ended, the next of kin is free to do what they wish with the flag. It’s important to note that this flag is not intended for outdoor use.

Don’t hang the flag outdoors unless it’s donated to a national cemetery. National cemeteries display these flags on special occasions. 

Otherwise, most families store these flags in a safe place. Families display the flags next to a military portrait or other memorabilia, or near an urn in the case of cremation. 

Flag code doesn’t mention how families keep their funeral flags. Some insist the flag is to remain folded while others choose to display it unfolded. So, there’s no protocol to worry about when handling a funeral flag after the presentation ceremony. 

Funeral Flag Presentation: A Sign of Honor 

The funeral flag presentation in military funerals is one of the many ways the United States honors veterans. Available to anyone who died on active duty or served in the U.S. Armed Forces, the flag presentation is a way to share military honor with the deceased’s family.

These flags are for the deceased on behalf of the Armed Forces and the President of the United States. The draping of flags was a symbol used by soldiers for centuries. Today, this tradition lives on in the flag presentation ceremony, and families have these flags as a memento of their loved one’s service for years to come. 

If you're looking to read more on military funerals, read our guide on military funeral honors.


Sources

  1. “Burial Flags.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: National Cemetery Administration. 9 January 2018. CEM.VA.gov
  2. “Final Salute with Military Funeral Honors.” Veterans Affairs. VA.org
  3. “The Story of Taps.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Celebrating America’s Freedoms. VA.gov

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