American flags are used in veterans' funerals.
American flags are used in veterans' funerals.

American flags have been draped over military veterans' coffins since the Napoleonic Wars in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The custom is rich with tradition and requires a certain protocol.

Significance

Flags draped over coffins honor the memory of military members who serve the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Qualifications

Most veterans and active-service members of the military qualify for flag-draped coffins at their funerals. The Department of Veterans Affairs states that veterans with dishonorable discharges are not eligible for an official burial flag.

Obtaining Flags

Those seeking a burial flag must complete an application and submit the veteran's discharge papers along with the form. The application--Form 21-2008 or the Veterans Affairs Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes--can be found at regional VA offices and most post offices (or see Resources). The form should be submitted to the funeral director or representative of the veterans group in charge of the service member's funeral.

Protocol

Burial flags should never touch the ground, and when being used to drape a coffin, should never be lowered into the grave. The flag should be removed from the casket and folded into a triangle with only the union, or the blue field, showing. It will then be given to the deceased's next of kin, friend or specified associate, according to the Maine Military Funerals Honor Program. Qualified veterans may receive only one burial flag.

On Display

American flags that draped the coffins of the unknown soldiers of World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War are on display in the Memorial Display Room of the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.