Veterans dedicate years of their lives to their country, which is worthy of respect and honor. Some even make the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives in the line of service. Placing a flag on a veteran’s grave is a symbol of respect for military veterans.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Where Can You Purchase a Flag for a Veteran’s Grave?
- Why Are Flags Flown on Graves?
- Steps for Putting a Flag on a Veteran’s Grave
Whether buried in a local or national cemetery, special monuments recognize those who fought for their country.
When it comes to grave decorations, it is wise to proceed with caution. This is especially true in the case of flags. There is a specific flag code to follow. Use our step-by-step guide to avoid any placement errors.
Where Can You Purchase a Flag for a Veteran’s Grave?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a U.S. flag to drape over veterans’ caskets. However, this is a different flag than the flag placed on the grave. This flag goes home with the family as a memento of their loved one’s service and sacrifice.
Flags meant for graves are smaller and sturdier. They’re designed to withstand the elements found in a cemetery.
You can use any flag that your cemetery allows. You could choose a classic U.S. flag, a flag symbolizing a specific branch of the armed service, or both. You can find flags to purchase at any of these online locations:
It’s critical to check with your cemetery before purchasing a flag. They might have rules or regulations about the types and sizes of flags they allow. Some national and state cemeteries have their own flags they display throughout the year.
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Why Are Flags Flown on Graves?
Outside of military burials, it’s common to see flags placed on or flown near veterans’ graves as a sign of respect. Some families choose to honor their loved one's military legacy by flying a flag on their grave all year long. Others choose to fly a flag on just the following days:
- Armed Forces Day
- Memorial Day
- Remembrance Day
- U.S. Flag Day
- Independence Day
- National POW/MIA Recognition Day
- Patriot’s Day
These days are a moment of remembrance for those who bravely served their country. No matter how simple the gesture seems, seeing a flag flying proudly on their loved one’s grave may carry significant meaning for the bereaved.
Steps for Putting a Flag on a Veteran’s Grave
If you’re planning to put a flag on a veteran’s grave to honor a holiday or special event, follow these steps carefully. You want to make sure you’re following proper flag protocol and being respectful.
Step 1: Know the rules
First and foremost, familiarize yourself with the cemetery rules. Some cemeteries have limitations on the type of decorations you can and can’t place at gravesites.
These rules are to ensure the grounds crew can do their job effectively. Placing something that’s against the rules may result in its removal.
It’s also essential to recognize the U.S. flag code:
- The U.S. flag is not to be used for decoration.
- The flag is only to be placed on veterans’ graves on holidays (Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day, Remembrance Day, and Veterans Day).
- The flag must be removed and stored neatly after these holidays.
Larger cemeteries, especially military cemeteries, usually handle the placement of these flags themselves. In this case, you likely won’t need to provide one for a family member’s grave.
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Step 2: Use a flag holder
A flag holder is a special add-on for graves and plots of land that are designed to hold flags. They can be attached to a veteran’s grave or placed in the ground.
You can choose a fancy flag holder, but it’s not necessary. As long as it’s approved by the cemetery, you’re good to go. When you are choosing, be mindful of the type of ground you’ll be placing the holder into as well as the material of the grave. You don’t want the holder to be unstable or fall over.
Step 3: Follow flag etiquette
It’s always important to follow proper flag etiquette when handling the U.S. flag. This is set by the flag code.
Under flag etiquette, the flag should never touch the ground. It dictates that flags should always be in perfect condition. If they become weathered, damaged, or worn out, there are steps to properly dispose of the flag.
In addition, you’re not usually allowed to illuminate a U.S. flag at night. U.S. flags aren’t meant to fly after a holiday has ended, and they should be removed either at sundown, or the next morning. Check out your state’s flag code website. It may have additional state-specific rules, especially in relation to state and local flags.
Step 4: Clean the grave
It’s also important to clean the grave prior to placing any flags nearby. You’re limited in what to leave at a grave, but you can still go above and beyond to ensure the area is adequately cleaned.
The best way to clean a grave is by brushing the surface gently with water. Avoid using harsh cleaning agents that can damage the material or marker. Next, clear the area around the grave by removing any leaves, brush, or old flowers.
Step 5: Place your flags
Now it’s time to fly your flag securely at your loved one’s gravesite. Flags are a great way to honor someone’s service to their country, and they’re also perfect for federal and state holidays.
Be mindful of the flag code and your cemetery’s rules, and you’re ready to place a flag on a veteran’s grave.
Snap a picture of the flag billowing in the wind to share with family and friends who are unable to visit the grave.
Step 6: Remove the flag on time
Be sure to remove the flag on time. Leaving the flag flying for too long is considered disrespectful, and leaves the flag exposed to the elements. The flag could be damaged, ripped, or destroyed by the weather.
Schedule time at sunset or for the next day to pick up the flag. You might also be able to coordinate with the cemetery to ensure the flag is removed safely. For a larger flag, fold it according to the flag code and store it somewhere safe. For a smaller flag, you likely don’t need to worry about any complex folding. Just take it down carefully and store it securely.
You can keep these flags at home in a flag box or as part of your own memorial. It’s something that can be reused again and again on holidays and during times of remembrance.
Fly the Flag High
Flags are used across the globe to honor those who love and serve their country. In the United States, flags are used primarily during federal and local holidays to remember those who have risked their lives in service to their country. Whether you’re visiting a military or civilian cemetery, flying or placing a flag at a veteran’s grave is a sign of respect.
It’s important to honor the veterans in our lives. These individuals served to preserve the rights and freedoms we value so much. Flying a flag on their grave is the perfect way to honor and remember them after they’re gone.