Most Americans have watched cinematic depictions of military funerals, which always seem to include flag folding, a 21-gun salute and a lone trumpeter playing "Taps." As with all other aspects of the military, there are specific rules and steps to follow concerning the use of the American flag at military funerals.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will provide a memorial flag for deceased veterans who meet certain criteria. According to the VA, those veterans who qualify served during wartime; died on active duty after May 27, 1941; and served after January 21, 1955. Certain individuals who served in the military forces of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, and certain members of the Selected Reserves also qualify.
Military branches are the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.
Dishonorably discharged veterans do not receive a flag from the VA.
The American flag furnished by the VA begins its journey to the bereaved on the deceased veteran's casket. The flag is spread across and centred on the top of the casket, with the union at the head of the casket over the left shoulder. The flag rests in this position during the memorial service and is at no point lowered into the grave, in accordance with general flag etiquette.
The VA requires that two uniformed military personnel, at least one from the deceased veteran's branch of the service, be present at a military burial. After "Taps" is played, they fold the flag into a tri-cornered shape in a specific, symbolic manner. To begin, the flag is folded in half lengthwise two times by bringing the bottom edge to the top edge. Starting from the left edge, the triangular fold is started by bringing the bottom corner to the top edge. The triangular folding continues until the final portion is completely folded and tucked in. Each of the twelve folds holds symbolic value, symbolising life, honour, and various tributes to God, country and family.
Presenting the Folded Flag
The folded flag is now carried waist-high with the straight edge facing the recipient. According to the VA, the primary eligible recipient is the next of kin. If there is no next of kin, the flag can be accepted by a close friend. As the flag is presented, specific words are spoken by the presenter, depending on the military branch of the deceased.
To obtain a burial flag, applicants must fill out Application 21-2008 on the VA website, and they can pick up the flag from a VA regional office or U.S. Post Office. Often, the funeral director can make the proper arrangements to obtain the flag. The flag is made of cotton, which can weather easily, and should therefore not be displayed outside. The VA is not able to replace the burial flag should it be lost or stolen.