All about the Flag on the Casket

DrillMaster Honor Guard, Honor Guard Training, Instructional 21 Comments

Definitions

Casket: a rectangular-shaped box in which the dead are buried.

air-force-casket-full Vet caskets dot comImage courtesy of www.veterancaskets.com

Coffin: a six-sided box for the same purpose. The ends taper inward toward the head and feet. Not widely used in America, used extensively in Europe.

basic-coffin murrayfuneralservicesdotCOdotUKImage courtesy of www.murrayfuneralservice.co.uk

Interment: the burial of a corpse in a grave or tomb, typically with funeral rites.

Internment: the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial.

See also Rendering Honors, The Briefing for Funeral Directors and Honor Guard Members.

What is an Interment Flag?

This is what the American flag is called that is draped over a casket. It is a cotton flag that is 5 feet by 9 1/2 feet with embroidered stars. There are certain companies that make these flags and each company has slight variations to their flags. If you speak with someone who has been a pall bearer fora while he/she just might be able to tell you about these slight variations and where the first fold into the canton lands, etc. Click here for great info on specifications.

Large vs. Small Stars

There are only six companies authorized to manufacture government spec, large star, internment flags. These flags are procured from the Post Office by funeral directors for the deceased with a valid DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, and death certificate. These large-star interment flags are for military veterans and elected officials. All other flag companies that are not authorized to manufacture the large-star interment flag may only manufacture the small-star or Civilian Internment Flag (the term coined by a friend and ceremonial colleague of mine) and that is offered for sale and use.

Who is Authorized a Flag on Their Casket?

All American citizens are authorized the small star flag on their casket. As mentioned above, the large star flag is for military veterans and elected officials.

Nationally elected officials receive the American flag, with state and local officials also authorized their respective Indian Nation, state, territory, county, and city flags to replace the national if the deceased/family so desires. First responders could also opt for their local flag or their respective Thin Line flag.

Is a flag authorized for first responder/military retirees or veterans?

Absolutely! Military retirees/veterans obtain their flags from the Post Office and first responders flags are provided through their department. First responders are authorized the small star flag unless they are a military veteran.

What about Suicide?

Any first responder or member of the military can receive a flag on their casket regardless of how they passed. As long as they served honorably, nothing prevents this at all. Please don’t let the stigma of a suicide deter you from honoring the deceased.

Is a flag authorized for deceased canines?

Yes. Canine’s serve their country in the military and law enforcement and other capacities and are considered a member of the military or law enforcement agency.

How is a Flag Placed on a Casket?

The canton (blue field) lays over the left shoulder of the deceased. The flag is centered end-to-end and side-to-side. See also The Draped and Dressed Casket.

How is a Flag-draped Casket Placed?

The head of the casket faces to the family’s left. That puts the canton away from the family. If the flag were to be picked up and displayed toward the family, it would display correctly from the family’s viewpoint with the canton in the upper left.

If there is not room for the casket to display sideways, the foot end of the casket faces away from the family with the canton to the left of and facing the family.

Are two or more flags authorized to be folded and presented to the next of kin?

Yes, but only one is folded at the service. While one flag is provided by the military service/public service agency others can be purchased for the family by the family, department, etc. It is standard that the flag that is draped over the casket is folded and presented and that all other flags are pre-folded and presented after the first flag. Only one flag is authorized to be folded during a funeral service.

Can an interment flag be flown?

Yes, of course. There is nothing wrong with that. That’s why it has grommets. Tradition holds that once the flag is folded over the grave that the family then holds onto it as a memento. However, there is nothing wrong with honoring the deceased and flying that flag.

The casket band

What is a casket band?

A large elastic band that goes around the casket to hold the flag in place during transport on a caisson it is not needed at any other time. Click here for a very good product. The casket band is for traveling (so that wind does not blow the flag off and should be removed when the casket lies in state if at all possible. The flag pictured is not dressed and the band is too high; it should be centered vertically.

How is the flag displayed on a fully open casket?

The properly folded flag is placed in the casket at the deceased’s left shoulder.

What about displaying the flag on a half-open casket?

Open Casket Flag
The fan folds of the flag on a half couched casket

The upper half of the flag (the
half with the canton) is arranged in three layers of even folds and the bottom half of the flag covers the closed half of the casket. Align the three folds with the edge of the closed half of the casket with the blue field as the top layers. Fold the header (white band) under the flag to display only the blue field and stripes. It is best to set up the casket with the flag in this manner before the ceremony. During the ceremony the casket can be closed and two pall bearers can then arrange the flag so that it then covers the whole casket. The picture of the open casket (top) shows the flag incorrectly displayed (the white band is showing).

Folded flag and urn

How is the flag displayed with cremated remains in an urn?

A properly folded flag is displayed and carried on the right of the urn.

Can state flags be used to cover a casket?

Yes. Some first responders who serve their state desire to have their state’s flag, which is just fine. The flag should be displayed so that it faces the same direction as if it were the American flag.

What about a Pall?

Pallbearers remove the flag, the pall (a large white cloth, mainly used by Roman Catholics) is placed and the service takes place. After the service, the procedure is reversed. See The Honor Guard Manual for full details.

How is a casket transported through narrow areas like a chapel aisle?

By two pall bearers: one at the foot of the casket, which actually leads when transported, and one at the head of the casket (where the canton is- the head of the deceased). Both pallbearers keep their hands on the casket the whole time.

How does the casket travel?

Feet-first at all times except in two instances:

  1. When the deceased is a chaplain and he is going in/out of the chapel
  2. When there is an impediment in the way of the casket traveling to the graveside all the way feet-first

The Wrinkled Flag Theory

Bush 41 Wrinkled Flag

I was asked, did the research, and here’s what I found. You will never see a wrinkled flag on a veteran’s casket, so why did Sen. McCain and Pres. Bush 41 have horrible looking flags? The theory states that those draped in this less than desirable manner acted inappropriately in their duties to the country.

Sen. McCain’s Casket

However, as you search the internet for images you will find that many state funerals have had caskets draped with wrinkled flags and that is not surprising. The flags are folded and refolded for transport and have the pallbearers reaching under the material to carry the casket. The small stars of Pres. GHW Bush’s flag are of interest, however. All veterans receive the large-star interment flag but he did not.

However, as you search the internet for images you will find that many state funerals have had caskets draped with wrinkled flags and that is not surprising. The flags are folded and refolded for transport and have the pallbearers reaching under the material to carry the casket. The small stars of Pres. GHW Bush’s flag are of interest, however. All veterans receive the large-star interment flag but he did not.

The Transfer Case

Remains of a recovered Viet Nam service member in a flag-draped transfer case

A transfer case is an aluminum rectangle-shaped box that has the lid on the bottom and handles on all four sides. When a service member dies while overseas, the remains are brought back to the USA via the case that is packed with ice.

Recovered partial remains are lighter since it’s just bones and possibly uniform material. A recovered body would obviously be much heavier. This accounts for the difference in number of the Carry Teams (4 and 6) in each of these pictures.

U.S. Army soldiers carry the flag-draped transfer case containing the remains of U.S. Army Sergeant Vernon W. Martin of Savannah, Georgia, out of a C-17 during a dignified transfer on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base October 6, 2009 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Some Resources

International Association of Fire Fighters Funeral Protocol for Line-of-Duty Deaths.

National Volunteer Fire Council Funeral Procedures for Firefighters: A Resource Manual.

Comments 21

  1. My Grandfather was a Paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne. He passed away on 7/28/15. My question is, My family and I are wondering if it is against protocol to place his photo on top of the flag covered casket ?

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      Author

      Hi Jason,

      Thank you for your question. My condolences for your loss.

      Placing anything on or in the flag is against the Flag Code.

      I’m my experience families have set up small tables next to the casket and placed the picture on it along with ribbons and/or medals and other uniform accouterments.

    2. Sir, I have two flags. One for my uncle who was a veteran of ww2 and my late father in law. I found both flags in different trunks unfolded. I would like to get then resolved and placed in a proper box. How does one go about doing that.

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        Author

        Mr. Martin, check with your local police department honor guard or high school JROTC and see if they would be able to help you – I’m sure they would be able to fold your flags. You can purchase simple or elaborate cases for folded flags online. Get the cases and then have the flags folded to fit.

  2. Really, over a canine? Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs, have had one almost all my life and appreciate and respect the job they do for the military and law enforcement. I believe that to place one over an animal of any kind is disrespectful to PEOPLE. The message you send by placing an American flag over an animal is that the service members life is equivalent to that of a dog/animal. What rule, regulation, law or decree from U.S. Code covering Honors for the U.S. Flag are you citing with this?
    Best Regards,
    Bill

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      Author

      Hello Sir,

      I understand what you are saying, but military and police K9s are enlisted members of their service and even earn rank. Their services and handlers consider them just as much a partner as a human.

    1. Post
      Author

      Ms. McKeeman,

      No, the flag never shares space. Here is what happens. For a Roman Catholic service, a white cloth, called a pall, is placed on the casket when it enters the church. In the vestibule, the pallbearers place the casket on the church truck (bier), remove the interment flag and place the pall on the casket. The casket is then wheeled into place, the service takes commences and when the service is finished a reverse of the previous procedures takes place: the casket is wheeled to the vestibule, the pall is removed and the casket flag is replaced. The pallbearers then lift the casket off of the bier and transport it to the hearse.

      PS: the interment flag can be folded lengthwise into thirds and then in half once or twice and draped over the back of a chair or placed on a table out of view of the congregation where the honor guard pallbearers have immediate access to it.

      I hope this answers your question.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you for this great question!

      Two flags on a casket or coffin would not be appropriate. A solution to this is to have one flag draped over the casket and then both flags mounted on staffs, placed in stands, and put behind the casket and, when the time comes, carried by the color guard.

      Side note: National colors do not dip for any reason.

  3. A bit of confusion here –
    Under the section – What about displaying the flag on a half-open casket?
    The last sentence says, “The picture of the open casket (top) shows the flag incorrectly displayed.” Yet the picture appears to be correct per the description…..??

    1. Post
      Author

      Mr. Wade,

      Actually, while I’ve made all kinds of changes throughout the website, the top picture is correct because the white band is showing. I updated the text.

      Once again, thanks!

  4. From photos of the recent GHWB and McCain funerals, the flag appears to be placed “upside down” since the approach to both flag draped caskets had the field of stars placed in the bottom right hand corner. Your thoughts?

    1. Post
      Author
  5. Drillmaster, I’m seeking information about the “13 Colony Fold”. I once saw our flag folded in that fashion, over a half-open casket. Do you have images and/or folding dimensions/instructions for this uncommon flag fold?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Gunny,

      I’ve not heard of the 13 Colony Fold before and folding over a half couched casket is not done. The American flag is only folded over a casket that is fully closed only. There is only one fold authorized for the American flag and that is detailed in the Flag Code. I’ll do some research on this and get back to you.

    2. Post
      Author

      Gunny,

      After some initial research, I cannot find where anyone has created another type of fold for the American flag (thankfully), which leads me to wonder if you might have been referring to a flag fold script that you heard read while the flag was being folded? If so, Here is an article about the unofficial scripts: https://thedrillmaster.org/2014/07/29/unofficial-flag-fold-scripts/. On January 22, this article will post: https://thedrillmaster.org/2019/01/22/the-meaning-of-the-thirteen-flag-folds/.

  6. Hi Gunny,
    I lost my husband on April 27, 2019.
    At his funeral, after the folding of the flag, it was handed to another military member who took the flag back to the head of my husband’s casket and did a couple of turns with it, before presenting it to me. What was that about? I’m sure it has some significant meaning but I can’t seem to find anyone who can tell me what it is. Can you help?

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        Author
    1. Post
      Author

      Mrs. Thomason,
      I know of no reason to execute some turns (facing movements?). “Cleaning up” the flag is a standard accomplished before every presentation where one team member ensures the flag is at its best before handing it to the next of kin.
      I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you very much for your and your husband’s service to our great nation.
      Semper Fidelis!

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