Military funerals are steeped in tradition and honor the service and sacrifice of those who have served their country. Like civilian funerals, they can be a solemn and emotional experience. By following proper military funeral procedures and etiquette, you can show respect for the deceased and their service to our country.
What to Wear
When attending a military funeral, it’s important to dress conservatively and respectfully. It’s best to avoid casual clothing like jeans, T-shirts or sweatshirts, as these could be considered disrespectful. Civilians can dress in formal attire, while former or active military members can dress in uniform. If you’re unsure what to wear to a military funeral, follow these guidelines:
- Style: You might wear a suit or dress pants with a dress shirt and tie. A dress or dress pants with a blouse and conservative skirts are also appropriate. Avoid wearing anything too revealing or flashy. Military dress or your Class-A uniform may also be suitable if you are an active or former military member.
- Colors: Dress in neutral or dark colors, such as black, gray, navy or dark green. Avoid bright colors or loud patterns.
- Footwear: Wear conservative, closed-toe shoes like dress shoes or flats. Avoid sandals or open-toe shoes.
Remember, the purpose of dressing appropriately for a military funeral is to show respect for the deceased and their family. It’s also important to consider the weather and the funeral’s location when choosing what to wear. If in doubt, it’s best to dress conservatively.
When To Salute
A misconception is saluting a military funeral shows respect. While no rule states civilians cannot salute, it’s best to leave this to former and active military personnel. Rather than saluting, you may place your right hand over your heart during these times as a sign of respect.
If you are an active or former military member, here’s when to salute at a military funeral:
- When the hearse arrives: If you are in uniform, you should salute when the hearse carrying the casket arrives or passes before you.
- During the procession: If you are in uniform and are part of the procession, you should salute as the procession moves.
- During the ceremony: If you are in uniform, you should salute during the playing of Taps and the National Anthem, as well as during a rifle salute and any prayers or other religious services. You can also salute as the casket is lowered into the ground.
All attendees should plan to arrive at the funeral service early to ensure they have time to find a seat and pay their respects before the service begins. During the ceremony, remain quiet and respectful. Turn off your cell phone and avoid any distractions. If you can, attend the burial ceremony and follow the same etiquette guidelines as the funeral service.
Where To Sit
At a military funeral, seating closest to the front is often reserved for the deceased’s family members and close friends. If you are attending the funeral as a member of the general public or as a fellow service member who did not know the deceased personally, you should follow the guidance of the funeral director or ushers.
Here’s the proper military funeral etiquette for veterans, active military personnel and other attendees:
- Close family: As mentioned, the immediate family at military funerals sit closest to the front during the ceremony. They often receive the folded American flag after the military memorial service.
- Nonfamily: Typically, there will be a designated area for those who aren’t family members to sit. This area is usually located toward the back of the chapel or seating area. Avoid sitting in reserved areas for family members or military personnel.
- Active and former military personnel: If you are a military member and attend the funeral in uniform, you may be directed to sit in a specific area with other service members. If this is the case, follow the funeral director’s or military personnel’s guidance.
Regardless of where you sit, you can show your respect by being attentive, following the instructions of the funeral director or ushers and observing the appropriate etiquette and traditions of the military funeral service.
Military Funeral Flag Etiquette
The American flag is an important symbol of the sacrifice and service of the men and women who serve in the military. At a military funeral, the flag is often used to honor the deceased and is presented to the family as a token of appreciation for the service of their loved one. A uniformed veteran service representative will present the flag during the ceremony. Here are some guidelines for military funeral flag etiquette:
- Folding the flag: The American flag is folded into a triangular shape during a military memorial service, with only the blue and white stars visible. The form represents the tricorner hat worn by the Revolutionary War soldiers. When an urn is used, the flag will already be in a military fold, carried to the right of the urn by the lead body bearer. After the urn comes to rest, the bearers will unfold the flag and hold it over the cremains.
- Presentation of the flag: The flag is usually presented to the next of kin or someone close to the deceased veteran if there is no next of kin. The presenter will kneel in front of the recipient, hold the flag out in front of them and offer words of condolence. The flag may also be presented at the graveside service. The military funeral protocol for presenting the flag is to face the flag recipient with the flag held waist high, straight edge facing the next of kin. Then, lean toward the recipient and present them with the flag with proper flag presentation language.
- Display of the flag: If you receive a flag at a military funeral, it is appropriate to display it in a prominent location, such as in a display case or on a wall. It’s crucial to ensure the flag is displayed properly and respectfully, such as in a well-lit area, away from any sources of heat or moisture and not touching the ground.
- Half-staff: The American flag is often flown at half-staff as a sign of mourning for fallen service members, usually ordered by the President or Governor. The flag should be hoisted to the top of the pole and then lowered to the halfway point. It should be raised to the top again at the end of the initial mourning period.
Remember that the American flag is a symbol of the service and sacrifice of the men and women who serve in the military. By following proper flag etiquette and military funeral protocol, we can show our respect and appreciation for their service and sacrifice.
Lucchese Funeral Home for Veteran Funeral Services
Following proper military funeral procedures can help respectfully honor the deceased and their family members.
Serving Veterans since 1878, Lucchese provides funeral services for all Veterans, active duty military and their families. We are dedicated to honoring the memories of our veterans and ensuring their final arrangements are respectful.