During times of war, we often see fallen war heroes returning in flag-draped caskets. This symbolises service in the armed forces of the United States, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Anyone who served in a branch of the armed services and was not dishonourably discharged is entitled to a military funeral, as are certain elected government officials.
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The Illinois National Guard states that this tradition began in the late 18th century during the Napoleonic wars, when the flag was used to cover dead soldiers carried from the field. This later evolved into the flag-draped casket seen at military funerals.
When the flag is draped over the coffin, the blue field, known as the "union," should be at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased, according to U.S. History.org. However, originally, the blue field was reversed, over the right shoulder, to indicate mourning.
According to the Department of Veteran's Affairs, all active-duty military personnel and veterans are eligible for a flag-draped casket, as is a president of the United States, who serves as commander-in-chief of the military. Some members of Congress may be eligible, as are certain civilians chosen by the president as having served the national defence of the country.
The flag is not buried with the casket. Instead, it is folded 13 times, in traditional military style, and usually given to the closest living relative. The family may keep the flag, or donate it to the cemetery if it has an "avenue of flags." In this case, the cemetery will fly all donated flags on patriotic holidays.
Other Flag Procedures
The flag should never touch the ground while draped on the casket as, according to the flag code, it represents a living country and should be considered a living thing. However, it is allowable for a veteran to be buried with a small flag in the casket or even to be wrapped in the flag, according to the Illinois National Guard.
Military men and women in the midst of a war are not typically able to hold funerals for their comrades who have fallen on the battlefield. Since the Korean War, bodies of dead military personnel have been shipped to the United States for burial when possible, though this has not always been the case. In absence of the flag-draped casket, many military men and women mourn with a different symbol: the battlefield cross. This is made of the soldier's rifle and bayonet stuck in the ground with the helmet perched atop and the boots sitting at the base.
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