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What to do with a Military Funeral Flag

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A United States flag is draped over the coffin  of a member of the military services or veteran during his or her funeral, with the blue field of white stars laid over the area of the deceased’s head and left shoulder. The military funeral flag is 5′ x 9-1/2′, which is about twice the size of the standard household flag. During the service, just after TAPS is played, the American flag is folded 13 times into a triangle measuring 24″ (bottom) by 16-3/4″ (diagonal) by 2-3/4″ (width).

Folded Military Burial Flag Size

Several legends exist explaining why the flag is folded thirteen times (for the 13 original colonies, so the story goes) into a the shape of a triangle (which, according to folklore, represents the tri-corner hats worn during the Revolutionary War), with the stars uppermos (reminding us of the national motto, “In God We Trust”).

While the origins of such symbolism are lost, and military funeral protocol does not include or confirm such meanings, it is acceptable and appropriate to make such associations during the funeral service if the family wishes to do so. Protocol does not prohibit it.

After the flag is folded, it is handed to the nearest relative of the military service member, usually a parent or spouse. If you are the recipient of a military funeral flag, you may be asking, What do I do with the flag? Here are a few options available to you.

1. Fly it

Flying a military burial flag

Should a flag used for a military funeral be flown? There is some difference of opinion among legal and historical scholars on this point. The official flag code does not make mention of the issue; some hold that once a flag is folded it should remain folded, while others have concluded that it is a noble and patriotic way to honor the life of the military service member.

Again, while the flag code does not mention the usage of funeral flags, it does not expressly forbid the unfolding and flying of the flag after the funeral service.

2. Display it in a Funeral Flag Case

Funeral Flag Display

In our cremation urn and memorial store, we offer a wide selection of American-made military funeral flag displays. These include a variety of solid wood cases, optional custom engraved name plates, medal and insignia displays, and cremation urn base attachments. Each display can be easily mounted on a wall or showcased on a mantle to honor the sacrifice of a military service member.

3. Make your own Flag Case

Make your own funeral flag display

If you’re handy with a skillsaw, wikiHow has a simple tutorial for a DIY military flag display case. This is a great way to invest your own time and craftsmanship into creating a unique memorial to honor the memory of a beloved veteran.

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57 thoughts on “What to do with a Military Funeral Flag

  1. […] What to Do with a Military Funeral Flag […]

  2. Thank you for your web page. You are correct in your comments about flying a funeral flag. There is nothing “wrong” with doing so. It is only wrong if the next-of-kin feels that it is a better memorial to keep it folded as handed to them during the service. There are a lot of myths about such things surrounding the flag, such as having to burn it if it touches the ground. Nonsense. You don’t want to intentionally toss it on the ground, but if it gets a little dirty, wash it. The flag is a symbol, not some magical icon. It should be respected as a symbol of our nation, and once faded, stained, or tattered so that it is no longer fitting for display then it should be retired (destroyed in a respectful manner, not tossed in the trash) unless it has historical significance. We collect old flags and retire them in a ceremony every year.

  3. Is there any difference between flag boxes beside what type of wood they are made out of? Also, is there a spray of some sort to apply to the flag to keep it from fading? If I make a box should the corners be called to seal the flag from the elements?

    Thank you.

  4. Hi Steven,

    Each of the flag displays we offer are a little bit different; some just have a different design or wood type while others have a pedestal stand, military medal display, or cremation urn base/back. The flag display itself will keep the flag from fading, so there is no need to apply a spray – just keep it from direct sunlight. If you make a box, I don’t think you would need to caulk the corners, unless you’re intending it to go out of doors (which we wouldn’t recommend). I hope this helps!

  5. Has anyone heard of using a military funeral flag to be displayed in a frame or hung on a wall in honor of the loved one unfolded? We are thinking of using our loved one’s flag unfolded and hung whether in a frame or flat against a wall.
    Thoughts??
    Thanks, Kim

  6. I work with Scouts and assist at Camp Ammon, the Boy Scout Serice Camp at the Wisconsin State Fair. We lost a church member a few years ago and his family asked to donate the flag to the Camp after the funeral. It flies proudly every year for the 10 days of the Fair. We fly it in his honour and the honour of all who served, who currently serve and those who will serve our great nation.

  7. I have my grandfathers burial flag. I want to honor him with its display. Is it disrespectful to have a full size frame made and it display it on my wall fully unfolded?

  8. Google search framed US Flag. That is what I was thing about doing also

  9. Hi Josh,

    Great question! As mentioned in the article, there is some debate amongst scholars about whether it should be unfolded or not. Most seem to say no, it should not be unfolded. If it is unfolded, it should be flown. So in answer to your question, if you would like to display the flag rather than fly it, you should probably leave it folded and display it in a triangular display case.

    I hope this helps!

  10. Hi,
    I salvaged some of an elderly aunt’s belongings after she died, and a folded military flag was in her possessions, from her husband’s funeral many years ago. The flag does not have much sentimental value for me. Are there any organizations to which I could donate the flag?

  11. Hi Jackie,

    Great idea! The Washington State Department of Veteran’s Affairs accepts donations of serviceable flags. Here is the link: http://www.dva.wa.gov/veteran-homes/donations

    You may also try contacting the Veteran’s Affairs department in your state to see if they accept flag donations.

    I hope this helps!

    Daniel

  12. When my grandfather in-law passed, my in-laws purchased several funeral flags in his honor so each of the grandchildren could have one. Since it is an official funeral flag, so to speak, is it the same size as one that would traditionally drape a coffin?

    Thinking for Fathers Day is buy a wall mounted flag pole for our front door and fly dear grandpas flag. Would this type of pole be large enough?

  13. Hi Danielle,
    Funeral flags are normally 5′ x 9-1/2′. However, there is a smaller version that runs 3′ x 5′. I believe the wall-mounted flag poles are generally for the smaller size, so you’ll probably want to measure the flag you have and compare it to the instructions on the flag pole. I hope this helps!
    Thanks,
    Daniel

  14. I want to use a bigger shadow box and put a pic of my dad along with the knife he had when he died along with his dd214. Is there a proper way/place for the flag to sit or can I just design the shadow box to what best meets the eye?

  15. A friend recently gave me a flag. I believe it is a funeral flag due to its size. I don’t know ok is right for me to keep the flag. She’s not even sure who it belonged to, just found a few of them in her home. Any suggestions on what I should do? I wanted to display/use it but I can’t shake the feeling that it is disrespectful since I don’t know its history.

  16. Hi Wendy,

    Great questions! There are three things that are always right to do with a flag, no matter its history:
    1) Fly it.
    2) Display it.
    3) Donate it to a military organization.
    It is respectful to do any of these three options with any flag, and especially so when it is a funeral flag (though there is some debate about unfolding a funeral flag, see comments above. However, if it is already unfolded, you should definitely feel comfortable about flying it).

    Hope this helps!

  17. Hi Lynda,

    As long as the flag remains folded, with the long edge on the bottom, it will be fine.

    Thanks!

  18. What about the “coin” that is inserted into the flag as they are folding it?

  19. Hi Margir,

    I haven’t heard of that tradition… is it possibly the challenge coins?

    Thanks for your comment!
    Daniel

  20. Hello Everyone, I buy Flags I see for sale in garage sales, swap meets and where ever I see them for sale. I hate imagining what happens next to the flags of fallen warriors or heroes who served this country go into storage, bought for wrong reasons or worst yet, end up in hands of some of these protesters we see on media. I have many, and they are safe and well taken care of. But what would be the next step? I have limited space.

  21. To Lynda regarding a display box, I saw a box yesterday at Michaels which includes the triangle compartment for the flag plus sections below that would house additional momentos. If you don’t have a Michaels nearby, you can probably find the special display box on their website.

  22. I have the flag that was draped over my fathers casket. I kept it in a storage box in my closet and want to display it, but it’s a bit dirty in a couple of spots. How do I clean it? Can I put it in the washing machine and dryer?

  23. Hello Deborah,

    It will depend on the materials of the flag, but here is a place to start: http://www.grandnewflag.com/flag-care/

  24. I am framing my husband’s military retirement flag and want to lay his dog tags on top of the folded flag?

  25. Hi Christine,

    Great question! The issue comes down to: Is what you are doing respectful to the person and to the flag? Sounds like this is a way of honoring your husband, his military service to our country, and the flag, so I would say yes, placing the dog tags on top of the flag would be a good tribute.

    Regards,

    Daniel

  26. Hello, will you please tell me the proper way to display a flag at a veterans memorial service when they have been cremated? This is going to be a very simple memorial/celebration of life at his home because that is what he wanted but I still feel he deserves the respect and honor of having a flag which will then be presented to his wife by their sons.
    Please tell me if this is even appropriate. I do not want to disrespect the flag in any way.
    Thank you so much for any advice you can offer.

  27. It sounds like you will do a great job respecting both the flag and the veteran’s memory. To display the flag, either leave it folded in a nice flag display case, from a staff, or hanging flat with the stripes vertical and the stars in the upper left corner. See here for more.

  28. Hello, I have been recently approached by my late husbands ex-wife and daughter to give them my husband’s flag so they can give it to his son for Christmas. (Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of his passing.) I’m hurt that they have no regard for my feelings or my memories and that of our daughter. Am I wrong to want to say “No”.

  29. you are all wrong… the only way a burial flag can be unfolded, or displayed, honoring the deceased veteran, is by donating it to a National Cemetary. These dedicated people know the flag and what it represents. They Honor our fallen soldiers and deceased vets by carefully unfolding, displaying them on the designated days, in an honored procession, then retire them again, with the honor and respect deserved by a deceased veteran. We soldiers salute and respect this honored tradition.

  30. Hi Jimmy,

    Thanks for your comments! That is certainly one popular view, and a very respectful one. However, as mentioned in the article and as others have commented, the flag code does not prohibit flying or displaying a burial flag so long as it is done respectfully.

    Thanks again for adding your viewpoint.

    Regards,

    Daniel

  31. About 4 years ago I wen to a yard sale and found an American flag. It was folded. About 2 years later I decided to fly the flag. When I opened it I found on the white band where you fly it from A scratched out name. After careful looking I found out who the person was. He was a submariner during ww2. Died in 1989. After getting in more research I found out about his life. I tried to get a hold of his family without success. I got a hold of a group of veterans who help former military personnel reconnect with their friends. They gave me the scoop on this veteran. Anyway. I asked if it would be appropriate for me to fly this flag in his honor on special days. They told me he would be honored to fly on those days. So I do, In his name. God Bless our veterans.

  32. Thanks for your story, Matt!

  33. The only thing about burial flags, is that they are not weather proof. Rightfully, they are not made to fly during inclimate weather and should be taken down when it rains.
    The flags they call all weather flags are the ones made of synthetic materials like polyester.

  34. Is it permissible to bury the flag that draped my Uncle’s coffin in the coffin of his wife?

  35. Great question, Cynthia! The answer will probably vary depending on who you ask, since the flag code does not list everything. In my view, the main point of the flag code is that it is treated respectfully. So are you honoring the flag – and your Uncle – by placing it inside his wife’s coffin? I think so, so I would say yes. Hope this helps!

  36. I found my grandfathers flag on a shelf in my fathers shop. It is slightly dirty and coming unfolded. What is the protocol on cleaning and re-folding?

  37. I’m glad that you mentioned that military flags used in funerals can be flown. Even if our law does not expressly forbid people to use that flag after the funeral service, it is great to know that the closest relative of the veteran can unfold and fly it. My aunt received the same flag years earlier, and now I understand why she took it out of the case and flew it outside their home. Thank you for the information.

  38. All school gymnasiums display the flag, indoors they are seldom are replaced, but if you can time it right wouldn’t be great to donate it to a new school to display honoring the fallen. Or even in a city library, city hall or various public buildings.

  39. I thought it was really cool there was a variety of different military funeral flag frames. My uncle is a veteran, but he recently had a stroke. We aren’t sure how long he is going to last, so my aunt has started working with him to prepare funeral arrangements. How can she find those military guys to shoot off their guns?

  40. Hello! I found your page while searching for information about a flag . We found it when we moved into this house about 20 years ago. It’s folded in the traditional triangle, but the stars aren’t showing. Both sides show the strips of the flag, not the stars. So I’m wondering was this flag actually used for a funeral, since it appears to be folded incorrectly? Also the flag has a vintage look to it, where the stitching on the stars is somewhat raised, not just printed on the material. Any information will be appreciated. Thank you very much!

  41. Is there any special way to mail or ship a military funeral flag? A great grandson wants his relative’s flag.
    Thank you, I learned a lot reading through these quest

  42. Nope, you can ship a military flag any way you like. USPS, FedEx, UPS. Just package it securely!

  43. Unfortunately I am not an expert on the various types of flags! Perhaps another reader has information about this? If you do, please comment!

  44. Hello, my Father is going to have a military funeral as he was a USAF Veteran.

    I will be the one they present his flag to.

    As a retired Army veteran. I think that regardless of civilian dress or not, I should salute the flag as it is being presented to me.
    Do you have any knowledge on this issue?
    Thank you so much for your time.

  45. Hi Lyn,

    My understanding is that no, civilians do not salute; however, you may want to ask the military personnel at the funeral what they think the proper response should be. Thank you!

  46. Do you have any info / sources on the recycling – more so re-Purposing the US Flag. My son is a US Marine stationed in the US. While returning from the recent NATO Exercise in Norway, he was presented with a couple of the Stars from a US flag, in an airport as a reminder that service members are not forgotten. I’d like to know more about this flag repurposing as an honorable way that the flag can live on and so I can help support this way of repurposing the flag, if needed. He does not know the organization of those giving out the stars. I’ve also read that the blue star field, should not be cut into. With his service, the flag has a deeper meaning than ever for me, so I don’t want to disrespect any who hold the flag in high regard. Thanks any help you can provide.

  47. I recently found my grandfather’s funeral flag. My mother possessed it until her passing as my grandmother was already gone, and she was the oldest child. Is there protocol that dictates who in the family gets it next?

  48. Hi Denise,

    Once the flag passed on to your mother, it became hers to do with what she chose. So if she left it to you or anyone else in her will, it passes on to that person. Otherwise I think it makes the most sense to give it to the person most closely related to or with the closest relationship with your grandfather. If there is a dispute, follow the legal ownership – who receives your mother’s possessions? I hope this helps!

  49. Hi Rick,

    That sounds like an interesting organization! However the protocol for flags is to display (or store) them properly or destroy them completely, so I do believe that the practice of “repurposing” a flag in the way that you mentioned goes against the flag code. Sounds like their hearts are in the right place, but ultimately ripping up and parceling out a flag is not proper flag etiquette.

  50. I want to display a funeral flag above crossed engraved swords awarded to the deceased
    during his military career. Would it be inappropriate to display the folded framed flag
    point down in the v formed by the crossed swords?

  51. Hi V Patrice,

    Good question. My understanding is that the point should always be aimed up, so if you were to display it with crossed swords it would go BELOW the “x” rather than ABOVE it.

  52. Here lately I have seen a lot of funeral flags showing up in yard sales, thrift shops and flee markets, some even have the peoples name tag to it,I suspect all family members are either passed on or just no one wanted it, So. one seeing this ,what should one do, or what’s the proper way of handling this if one comes across it, is there a place these flags can be sent to with the name of the people

  53. Hi Steve,

    Great question, my understanding is that old military burial flags should be given to your local national/veteran’s cemetery. You might want to contact them first to see what they have to say. Thanks!

  54. Is it inappropriate to deviate from military memorial flag protocol for a funeral for another member of the family to be presented and receive the military memorial funeral flag of the deceased veteran other than the next of kin?

  55. Hi Theresa,

    In my understanding, yes, the next of kin can decline to receive it and pass it on to someone else, or perhaps they are not able to be present and so another person can stand in for them. I’m sure it varies by situation, but the main point is that, just as with inheritance, the next of kin has priority. Thanks for your comment!

  56. If a flag has become unfolded either by accident or on porpoise what is the proper protocol on refolding it? I was always under the impression that a military honor guard needed to refold honor flags and that you can take them to your local America Legion to fold them for you. Is this proper flag edict or am I mistaken?

  57. Hi Jack,

    Here are some instructions on how to properly fold the flag: http://www.usflag.org/fold.flag.html

    From what I understand of flag etiquette, anyone can fold the flag. But I’m sure if you contact the local American Legion, or the local office of your family member’s military service branch, they will gladly fold it for you upon request.

    Thank you!

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