Casket: a rectangular-shaped box in which the dead are buried.
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 and other countries.
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.
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 pallbearer for a while he/she just might be able to tell you about these slight variations and where the first fold into the canton lands, etc.
Per the Flag Code, the interment flag is only draped on a casket or transfer case. It should never be placed on a shipping container (used for transporting a casket in the cargo area of an aircraft).
There is a synthetic (nylon?) version of the interment flag and it’s terrible. It does not fold well and will not stay on the casket without help.
Large vs. Small Stars
There are only six companies authorized to manufacture government specification, 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, elected officials, and federal law enforcement officers who serve in the Department of Homeland Security and others. 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) offered for general sale and use. The large star interment flag should not be for sale to the public.
Who is Authorized a Flag on Their Casket?
All American citizens are authorized the small star (bull) flag on their casket. As mentioned above, the large star flag is for military veterans, etc.
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/next of kin so desires. First responders could also opt for their local flag or their respective Thin Line flag.
Note: Never place two or more flags or a flag and flowers on a casket. That is completely inappropriate.
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 fill the requirements of the large star flag.
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 and supporting the next of kin. Suicide is not dishonorable, it is the result of terrible internal turmoil. To judge someone as less than worthy of receiving funeral honors just because they killed their self, is inappropriate.
Is a Flag Authorized for Deceased Canines?
Yes. Canine’s serve their country in the military and law enforcement and in other capacities and are considered a member of the military or law enforcement agency.
How is a Flag Placed on a Closed Casket?
The canton (blue field) lays over the left shoulder of the deceased. The flag is centered end-to-end and side-to-side on a fully closed casket.
How is the Flag Displayed on a Casket When Carried?
See this article, The Draped and Dressed Casket, that explains how pallbearers (Body Bearers, Casket Bearers) dress the flag for carrying and placement. Note: there are no hard and fast rules about these techniques. Carrying the casket with the flag draped or dressed is up to the team. No such thing as “never” or “always” here except, never get the flag under the casket when placing it.
How is the Flag Displayed on a Fully Open Casket?
The fully couched (open) casket requires the properly folded flag to be placed in the casket at the deceased’s left shoulder.
How is the Flag Displayed on a Half-open 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 or the funeral director can then arrange the flag so that it then covers the whole casket.
Can State or Organizational Flags be Used to Cover a Casket?
Yes. Some state, city, and county elected officials and 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. Note: salutes are rendered for the flag, not the deceased.
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 military funeral service.
Can an Interment Flag be Flown?
Yes, of course. There is nothing wrong with that. That’s why it has grommets on the header (white band). 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.
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.
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. Please don’t lean the flag against the urn.
What about a Pall?
Pallbearers remove the flag, the pall (a large ceremonial white cloth sometimes with a simple or ornate design, 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 to only guide, which actually leads when transported, and one at the head of the casket to push (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:
- When the deceased is a chaplain and he is going in/out of the chapel. He is also placed as if he is facing the congregation.
- When there is an impediment in the way of the casket traveling to the graveside all the way feet-first.
The Wrinkled Flag Theory
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 Pres. Bush 41, Sen. McCain, and Rep. Lewis have bad looking flags? The theory states that those draped in this less than desirable manner acted inappropriately in their duties to the country. We can argue the point well that some in government are absolute traitors, but there is no signal to indicate that.
As I searched for images of flag draped caskets, I found that veteran funerals have good-looking flags, but many state funerals have had caskets draped with partially wrinkled flags and here is why:
Veteran Funeral. (As an example) The casket is draped at the funeral home, (possibly transported to the chapel,) and then transported via coach (hearse) to the grave site, folded and presented to the NOK. Very little handling here.
State Funeral. (Again, as an example):
- The casket is draped at the funeral home.
- It’s carried to the coach and transported to lie in state at a state capital.
- Body bearers carry the casket into the capital.
- Body bearers carry it back to the coach.
- Body bearers transfer the casket to an aircraft.
- After the plane lands, body bearers transfer the casket to a coach where it is taken to the capital rotunda in Washington DC.
- Body bearers carry the casket to the coach.
- Body bearers carry the casket to the grave site where it is folded and presented to the NOK.
As you can see from the two examples above, there is a huge difference between what happens for a state funeral. There are very good reasons for the wrinkles and creases- the body bearers must constantly reach under the flag to grasp the casket handles and a casket band is most likely used each time the casket is loaded into a coach or aircraft. A casket band was used on 41’s casket when it was transported by train across Texas and Rep Lewis’ flag had a casket band for several carries and for the horse drawn carriage over the bridge in Alabama. The band is removes each time the casket lies in state and the body bearers dress the flag as best they can each time the casket is placed.
If you notice, only the sides and the ends are wrinkled, not the top. That is a good indication that it’s the constant handling by the body bearers of the casket to transport it to so many different places is the reason behind the wrinkles and creases .Constant movement of the flag-draped casket is going to increase the wrinkles in the flag. The pallbearers make every effort to dress the flag after the casket is placed.
The small stars of Pres. GHW Bush’s flag are of interest since he served in the Navy. That was most likely an oversight by a funeral director’s inattention to detail.
The 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.