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Military Funeral Honors and Protocols: What to Know

Gabrielle Applebury
Woman holding a folded American flag at a funeral

If you haven't attended a military funeral before, or are planning a military funeral for a loved one, it can be helpful to know what to expect. Unlike a funeral for non-military affiliated individuals, military funerals often have various military funeral honors throughout the service.

Military Funeral Honors

In general, military funeral honors may include:

  • An Honor Guard Detail of no less than two members from the Armed Forces, one of whom from the branch in which the deceased person served, also called a parent service representative
  • Folding an American flag by a representative of the deceased person's parent service
  • Presenting the flag to the next of kin
  • Playing Taps either by a bugler or via electronic recording
Military Honor Guard Folds United States Flag at Veteran Funeral

Who Is Eligible for Military Funeral Honros?

Those eligible to receive military funeral honors include:

  • Active duty service persons or those in the Selected Reserve
  • Former active service members who were honorably discharged or retired
  • Former members of a Selected Reserve who served for at least one year and who retired or were honorably discharged
  • Members of the military who were discharged due to injury received in the line of duty

Military Burial

Burial and graveside related customs may include:

  • During a funeral, the casket has an American flag draped over it. As part of a tradition that dates back to the 18th century, the blue field of the flag is placed at the head of the casket, over the deceased person's left shoulder during the funeral.
  • Once the graveside services are completed, if requested, there will be a three volley rifle firing. The parent service representative may give the next of kin a casing from rounds that are shot.
  • During military funerals for heads of state, a former U.S. President for example, the casket is placed upon a caisson and pulled by several horses. A single riderless horse follows behind, bearing only boots facing backward in the stirrups. This style of procession is also used during a funeral for an Army or Marine Corps officer who ranked as corporal or higher.
  • During services at Arlington National Cemetery, a service person will stand vigil over the casket until it is properly interred in the ground.
Military Funeral hearse

Military Funeral Protocol

Military funeral protocol will vary depending on what the family of the deceased individual requests, as well as which honors they were eligible to receive.

Military Funeral Flag

The military funeral flag is draped over the casket or is placed by the urn during the funeral service and is typically given to the next of kin or a friend of the deceased individual. Usually after the playing of Taps, the flag is folded precisely 13 times until only the blue part with the white stars is showing. If you are given the flag:

  1. The individual holding the flag will face you with the flag held at waist-level.
  2. They may say, "On behalf of the President of the United States, (the United States Army; the United States Marine Corps; the United States Navy; or the United States Air Force), and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service."
  3. You may then reach out and take the flag.

What Happens at a Funeral With Military Honors?

At a funeral with military honors, the protocols will vary slightly depending on the deceased individual's family's wishes, the rank that the deceased individual held while serving, as well as the availability of military personnel who are able to participate in the service.

Who Gets a 21-Gun Salute at Their Funeral?

The 21-gun salute is fired during an ex-president's, president's, or current president's funeral. It may also be fired on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and President's Day.

Marine Corp performs the 21-gun salute

How Do You Get Full Military Honors at a Funeral?

Prisoners of war, medal of honor recipients, general officers and above, commanding officers and above, and flag officers may be entitled to full military honors at their funeral.

What Are Full Military Honors?

Full military honors may include:

  • Honor guard detail
  • Folding and presenting American flag
  • Playing of Taps
  • Casket team
  • Firing party
  • A bugler
  • Military funeral escort
  • A riderless horse with boots facing backwards
  • Air force flyover
  • Casket carried to burial grounds in caisson

Military Funeral Order of Service

A sample of a military funeral service:

  1. A funeral car or caisson travels to the place of burial.
  2. Military members salute upon arrival.
  3. Funeral director or chaplain leads the casket, which is carried by pallbearers, to the gravesite.
  4. Once graveside, the flag is placed appropriately on the casket.
  5. Everyone in attendance is asked to sit.
  6. The service occurs.
  7. Those who were general officers and ranks above may receive a cannon salute.
  8. Funeral service officiant steps aside and an officer in charge steps up to the casket and the family of the deceased individual stand up.
  9. Rifle volley occurs.
  10. Taps is played.
  11. Family sits after Taps concludes.
  12. Flag is folded and presented to next of kin.
  13. Condolences may be exchanged.
  14. Service is concluded.
Militaries holding a coffin covered with the American flag

Military Funeral Honors Request Form

Military funeral honors procedures can be requested by the funeral director you are working with, or by whoever is planning the funeral. To do so, contact the Military Funeral Honors coordinator in your area and fill out the military funeral honors request form.

Military Funeral Etiquette

If you haven't attended a military funeral before, it's important to understand appropriate military funeral etiquette. This may include what to wear, if you should or should not have your child or children attend, as well as whether you need to participate in any aspects of the service.

What to Expect at a Military Funeral

Military funerals will vary depending on several factors. Understanding what to expect at a military funeral, or how to plan a military funeral, can help you feel a bit more prepared during this time.

Military Funeral Honors and Protocols: What to Know