Flag ceremony

The Disposition of American Flags

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There are instances where we may want to “honor” someone by doing something that possibly violates the Flag Code due to ignorance. This article aims to eliminate that ignorance and inform on ways to truly honor the ones who served our country. Burning

The American flag is a profound symbol of freedom and patriotism. Honoring a military veteran involves respecting that symbol and those that represent a veteran’s service and sacrifice.

  • When a member of the military retires he/she is presented with a folded American flag.
  • A general purpose/interment flag is traditionally draped over the casket of a veteran (this is authorized for all Americans, who folds it is the question).

When a veteran passes away, the question of what to do with the flag(s) arises. It is important to handle the flag with the utmost care and reverence to honor the memory of the veteran.

What to Do with a Flag After a Veteran Passes Away

Preservation and Display

One of the most common and respectful ways to handle the flag after a veteran’s funeral is to preserve it as a cherished keepsake. The flag is folded into a neat triangle and can be placed in a display case. This allows family members to honor and remember their loved one while ensuring the flag remains in pristine condition. Display cases can be personalized with the veteran’s name, rank, and service details, adding a personal touch to the memorial. It is important to include a document that tells future generations who the veteran was, where they served, and any memories or stories about their service. This makes the flag more meaningful as the reader understands what the veteran did while serving the nation. 


A meaningful donation to JROTC, Sea Cadets, Civil Air Patrol, or other cadet programs is a very good way to help the cadets understand the sacrifice and use the flag for training. What you might also consider is donation to a law enforcement department/office or fire/EMS department. The department honor guards need flags with which they can train for their funerals.

Another option is to donate the flag to an organization that respects and cherishes the symbol of the American flag. Many veterans’ organizations, such as the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), accept flags for ceremonies and events. Donating the flag can ensure it continues to be used in ways that honor the sacrifices of all veterans.

Handling and Appropriate Care of the US Flag

The American flag should be treated with the utmost respect and dignity, especially those that have draped the casket of a veteran or first responder. This begins when the flag is first placed on the casket and continues through the life of the flag.


Serviceable flags that have become soiled or water-stained may be cleaned in the manner best suited for the flag material. Water-stained rayon banner cloth will first be dry cleaned. If spots remain, flag may be laundered in warm water with a mild detergent. When completely dry, it should be pressed on a standard steam press. Indoor flags should be handled individually and in a dignified manner. They should not be mingled with other articles being cleaned or laundered.

AR 840-10, paragraph 10-3. Care of flags, d.

The Flag should Never be Used as a Receptacle

Over the last 30 years, it has become a tradition for the firing party to present three spent shells, while first responders present a badge or patch of the department they served with to the family as an additional keepsake. These keepsakes are often tucked into the flag just before it is presented to the family. I understand the sentiment but it is completely inappropriate and prohibited by the Flag Code, TC 3-21.5, MCO 5060.20, and AFPAM 34.1203 along with DoD directives. These keep sakes may be placed in a case with the flag but should never be placed in the folds of the flag.

Cremation of the Flag with Remains – NO!

There are occasions where veterans have passed away and there isn’t any family or next of kin to receive the flag. These veterans are still entitled to the funeral honors they earned. Following the service they are often cremated and recently crematoriums/funeral homes have the flag cremated with the veteran.

h. Unserviceable flags. Unserviceable flags will not be used for banners or any other purpose. When a flag is no longer suitable for display, it will not be cast aside or used in any way that may be viewed as disrespectful. If not preserved as specified in chapters 2, 5, 6, and 10, it will be destroyed privately, preferably by burning, shredding, or by some other method that does not show irreverence or disrespect to the flag.

AR 840-10, Chapter 1, paragraph 1-8

The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.

4 U.S. Code § 7 – Position and manner of display, (n)

We can understand the restriction of not lowering the flag into the grave to mean that the flag is not draped on the casket nor folded and placed inside the casket. The same idea is applied for a casket or a cremation container. Stop placing flags in to be cremated with veterans or anyone else for that matter.

Combining the flag with human remains during cremation not only violates these guidelines but also diminishes the significance and honor that the flag represents. Families should seek alternative ways to honor the flag while respecting both the symbol and the memory of their loved one.

Properly Destroying the Flag

According to the U.S. Flag Code, flags that are worn, tattered, or otherwise no longer presentable/serviceable, are destroyed. The proper way to dispose of a worn or damaged flag is through a dignified burning ceremony (natural fibers) or shredding and burial (man-made fibers), conducted separately from any other items or remains.

The only direction provided by the Flag Code or military regulations, is that the worn flag must be destroyed, preferably by burning. Many veterans’ organizations and local community groups conduct flag retirement ceremonies, according to the traditions of their organization, where flags are respectfully burned in a manner befitting their significance. These ceremonies provide a dignified end for the flag’s service while honoring the values it represents. Participating in or attending such a ceremony can be a meaningful way for families to ensure the flag is treated with the respect it deserves.


Handling the American flag after a veteran has passed away requires care, respect, and adherence to established guidelines. Whether preserving it as a keepsake, donating it to an organization, or participating in a proper disposal ceremony, families have several options to honor both the flag and the memory of their loved one. By understanding and respecting these practices, we ensure that the sacrifices of our veterans are remembered and honored with the dignity they deserve.

Guest post by DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist

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