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A Final Salute to the Defenders of Freedom
Retired Major General
Arthur MacArthur (father of General Douglas MacArthur) stood before the 60 surviving
members of his old Civil War unit, the 24th Wisconsin Infantry. On the wall behind
him was a special flag. Aged and battle torn, it was the original battle-flag of the
24th Wisconsin. Almost 50 years earlier as a young Union Lieutenant, MacArthur had
valiantly carried that flag up Missionary Ridge. For his heroism that day he had
been awarded the Medal of Honor. On this night as he stood before his comrades,
Arthur MacArthur was to give the keynote address. He stood, spoke three words, and
collapsed to the floor. With what remained of his fellow soldiers gathered around
him, Arthur MacArthur drew his last breath, then died. Edwin Parsons, the adjutant
for the veterans in the group, looked up from the body of MacArthur to the flag, stood to
his feet, and as the minutes of that meeting recorded, "took from the wall the
battle-torn flag he (MacArthur) had so gallantly carried, and wrapped it around
More than 40 million American
men and women have defended freedom in the uniform of our Military Services. The
red, white and blue of the American Flag covering their casket upon death, is a final
tribute to the men and women who have secured the blessings of liberty. Though the
privilege and tribute is not reserved exclusively for veterans (flags also drape the
caskets of government officials and others of import), it is a special tribute the family
of every veteran should be aware of and take advantage of.
Each year the U.S. Department
of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) issues almost a half-million burial flags to drape the
caskets of deceased veterans. Any honorably discharged veteran is entitled to a
burial flag which, upon interment is folded and presented to the family as a
keepsake. Only ONE burial flag may be provided per veteran. Usually these
details can be handled by the funeral director, however every veteran, and the family of
every veteran, should be aware of this special provision. Appropriately, this is
one of the few governmental actions that can be done with a minimum of "red
tape" and paperwork. A burial flag may be obtained from most post offices after
filling out a simple, single-page form, VA FORM 2008, and verifying the Veteran's status
with discharge papers such as a DD-214. You can click on the thumbnail at right to
access a printable copy of this form in .gif format.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR A
In general, ANY VETERAN of
military service who has served one enlistment or more or who has served in any war, is
eligible for a burial flag providing their discharge was not a dishonorable discharge.
(NOTE: You do NOT have to be a COMBAT VETERAN to qualify.) Under
certain circumstances, burial flags may also be provided for veterans of reserve military
duty. These are the general qualifications for a burial flag. If you are a
veteran or a family member of a veteran, check any box that applies. Any checked box
denotes a veteran entitled to a burial flag issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs
to honor his or her memory.
1) Any veteran of a war, Mexican border service, or of service after
Jan 31, 1955 who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
a) The phrase "veteran of war" requires a showing that the
deceased was in service in the US Armed Forces during a war period. The phrase
"Mexican border service" means active service during the period beginning
1/1/1911 to 4/5/1917, in Mexico, on the borders thereof, or in the waters adjacent
thereto. The phrase "service after January 31, 1955" relates to veterans
with ACTIVE military, naval, or air service after that date.
b) The phrase "under conditions other
than dishonorable" requires showing of discharge or release from active duty under
honorable conditions (Honorable or General) from the indicated period of service in the US
Armed Forces or, in absence of such discharge or release from active duty, A determination
by Department of Veterans Affairs that discharge or release from active duty, was under
conditions other than dishonorable.
c) The phrase "at lease one
enlistment" is construed to include service of a commissioned officer whose service,
computed from date of entrance into commissioned status to date of separation from
service, terminated under honorable conditions, and in all cases, relates to peacetime
service before June 27, 1950.
d) When the deceased was honorably
discharged for disability, it may be assumed that the disability was "incurred in
line of duty".
3) Issue of flag in in-service cases (#3 at
left) is required only when the deceased was interred outside the United States, or
remains not recovered, or where service department cannot supply flag in time for burial.
An explanation should be included on the VA FORM 2008 under "Remarks".
2) Any veteran released from ACTIVE duty in the US Armed Forces under
conditions other than dishonorable after serving at least one enlistment, or who is
discharged for a disability incurred in the line of duty.
3) Any Veteran who died in active service after May 27, 1941 and for
whom a burial flag has never been issued.
4) Any veteran separated from Philippine Military Forces
under conditions other than dishonorable after serving the United States in such forces
under President's Order of July 26, 1941, and who died on or after April 25, 1951
The loss of
a family member can be a traumatic time, and the Veterans Administration has taken every
step to insure the process of procuring a burial flag can be done rather easily. A
completed VA Form 2008 can be taken with a copy of the deceased veteran's discharge papers
to most VA regional offices or local post offices, where a burial flag will be immediately
issued. In the event that you are unable to locate discharge papers, the issuing
authority MAY issue a burial flag without them, provided a "statement is made by a
person of established character and reputation that he/she personally knows the
deceased" to have qualified under the above criteria.
Properly Displaying the Burial
The burial flag covering the
closed casket of a deceased veteran is displayed in alignment with the position of the
body, the "Union" (field of blue stars) rests at the head and over the left
shoulder of the body of the deceased. Other manners of display include:
Half Couch - When
the casket is displayed in the half-open position, the burial flag is folded into thirds,
the outer fold displaying the Union next to the open portion of the casket on the deceased
Full Couch - When
the casket is displayed in a fully opened position, the burial flag is properly folded
into a triangle with only the stars and blue of the Union showing. This folded
burial flag is placed in the center of the top portion of the casket cap (lid) just above
the left shoulder of the deceased.
Grave-side Ceremonies and Display of the Burial
The United States Flag Code
specifies that the burial flag should NEVER be allowed to touch the ground, nor is it to
be lowered into the ground with the casket. The proper procedure
at the conclusion
of the grave-side ceremony is:
The Burial Flag is lifted waist-high by the pallbearers
and held in this position for the playing of "Taps".
Upon the conclusion of the
playing of "Taps" the Flag is properly folded into a triangle.
The folded flag is then presented to the deceased
veteran's next of kin "On behalf of a grateful Nation".
The folded burial flag becomes the property of the
Veteran's family, to honor the memory of one who has served the cause of freedom.
Military Honors and Funeral Support
The Department of Defense
Directive 1300.15, Military Funeral Support, establishes three distinct categories of
veterans and the level of military burial honors each category minimally receives.
Those who die on active
duty or were awarded the Medal of Honor receive, upon request, FULL MILITARY HONORS
including pallbearers, a firing party (for a gun salute), bugler (to play
"Taps"), officer or NCO in charge, and a chaplain.
Retired military personnel
can receive FULL honors upon request, RESOURCES PERMITTING. At the very
least, a Service representative will attend the interment service to present the Burial
Flag to the Veteran's next of kin.
Any honorably discharged
Veteran may request a Service Representative to present the Burial Flag to the next of kin,
but this will be subject to the resources available in the community.
communities, with military resources declining to support funeral details, local veterans
have formed "burial details" to render proper honors to their deceased comrades.
These dedicated teams are independent of official sanction, but are veterans who
are concerned with seeing their brothers and sisters in arms properly honored upon death.
The level of support they can render varies from community to community, but
usually include at the least a "firing team" to render a gun salute, and a
representative to present the Burial Flag. You can contact your local veterans
organizations (VFW, American Legion, GI Forum, Marine Corps League, etc.) to learn if such
a detail exists in your location.