The Draped and Dressed Casket

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A fully draped casket

This article is about when to drape, dress, or band the flag on the casket and when to transfer a casket using each of the three techniques. Let’s begin with a bit of history.

For the US military, caskets have been carried while draped, dressed, and banded for decades depending on the requirements. Different services have used different standards at various times as you will see by the pictures.

The terms draped/dressed/banded casket = draped/dressed/banded flag.

Dressed casket of JFK

For many years, first responders (law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS personnel) have followed US military standards from the Army and Marine Corps due to the volume of information in both drill and ceremonies manuals. The Air Force manual relies heavily on both manuals and is usually not referenced. Even though the two manuals have an abundance of information, understandably, first responders have resorted to creating techniques to suit their immediate needs. These standards extend into the Forest Service, various rescue agencies around the country, TSA color guards, and Federal Reserve Police.

Draped Casket
1985 – Pallbearers carry the flag-draped casket of LTJG Sather at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

In the Military Drill World and especially the Ceremonial Drill World there are some times when “Never” and “Always” are necessary. To say, “A draped casket is never carried”, or something similar, is just not so. A drape, dress, or band situation is not one of those times for an always or never, except where noted below.

Defining our Terms

Draped Casket: The flag is laid over the casket.

Draped Casket (Circa 1985)
Here, a US Navy Ceremonial Guard Carry Team escort the remains of a fallen shipmate in a transfer case.
Trasnfer cases are now banded underneath the flag and the flag is then folded and tucked into the band on all four sides.

Dressed Casket: The flag is “dressed” (folded up) at each end.

Fully Dressed Casket (Both Ends)
Here, the last two guards for Casket Watch dressed the flag and are now rotating the casket to escort it out of the chapel to the awaiting pallbearers.

Banded Casket: A Casket band is around the flag holding it to the casket.

Banded Casket
Here, firefighters train to place the casket on the hose bed of an antique fire truck.
Draped casket
Circa 1960-1975 copyright Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive

When and Why

Pallbearers transporting a fully draped casket

Carrying a draped casket. There is no reason that a team of pallbearers cannot carry a casket with the flag draped. It’s just a technique the team can use. However, the team must also have a planned technique for ensuring the flag does not get caught under the casket when loading and unloading the casket from the coach, caisson, apparatus, or mockup. I wish I had pictures of my time with USAF Base Honor Guards, but we didn’t take pictures that much back then. At the mockup, the four pallbearers at each end would take their outside hand along the edge of the flag, run it out to the corner and lift the corner holding it out from the casket to prevent setting the casket down on the flag. The casket would be lowered and the Tabletop sequence would then commence. However, dressing the flag from the start eliminates any possible issues.

Training: Holding the corners of the flag before setting down the casket

See also, All About the Flag on the Casket.

President GWB’s draped casket

Dressing the Flag

Here, the lead pallbearer uses an Air Force technique to dress the flag before the pallbearers approach

This technique can eliminate the guesswork ensuring the the flag is secure and not in danger of being caught on anything.

Depending on the military service, there are different times to dress the flag. For United States Certified Ceremonial Guardsmen, the times are: right after the completion of Formal Casket Watch, as pictured above, and upon the pallbearers lifting the casket from the bier or pulling it out of the coach.

Fully dressed flag
This occurs immediately after the pallbearers have the casket out of the coach and Push-Pull has moved from the head to secure his corner

Banding the Flag

This is an “Always” situation since the casket on a fire truck hose bed must have the flag secured. It is not mandatory in other situations, although there are times it may be preferable. Place the band and tuck the flag prior to final transport. Dress the flag before each transport and then drape it when the casket initially rests at each point of the funeral or at the last stop, the grave site.

Context is always necessary. Flags have a casket band in Arlington and other national cemeteries due to the casket traveling on a caisson. A banded casket being carried can be due to constant transfer from one mode of transportation to another (caisson, aircraft, coach). A casket being placed outside and left unattended probably should have the flag banded so that a sudden wind gust does not create an extremely embarrassing moment.

Banded due to transport and being set down outside
Armed Forces body bearers carry President Gerald R. Ford into the the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum during the funeral service Jan. 2 in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Or, movement on a flight line can require a band.

Priesdent Reagan’s casket

Other Techniques

There aren’t any.

Please do not roll

The Takeaway

United Stated Certified Ceremonial Guardsmen have their standards outlined in The Honor Guard Manual and each military service honor guard has theirs. While we can see that there are times when pallbearers should use a certain technique, there isn’t a right or wrong way for dressing, draping, or banding (except where noted).

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