The folding of the flag and presentation is an integral part, if not the most important part, of any military funeral. There is symbolic meaning in virtually every move made. The draping of military caskets dates back to Napoleon as do other aspects of the ceremony. The traditions of the military funeral date back centuries and the US military has a specific set of steps that have become solidified as standard operating procedures.
The flag should be draped over the coffin with the blue field over the left shoulder of the deceased. After Taps has been played the flag is folded into a triangle to symbolize the tri-cornered hat the colonials wore during the revolution. When the flag is properly folded it should fold 13 times representing the 13 colonies. Once folded, the flag is presented solemnly to the next of kin or appropriate family member. It is presented with a flat edge facing the recipient at waist high. A member of the honor guard leans in to the recipient and presents flag while saying, “On behalf of the President of the United States, (branch of service deceased served in), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
In my opinion, the most important part of the presentation, maybe the entire ceremony, is when the flag is presented to the loved one and the above verbiage is delivered. The rest is pomp and circumstance. Important pomp and circumstance but just that. Every part of the ceremony culminates to this moment. At the height of the feeling of loss, another veteran leans in and tells the next of kin that at some point in the service member’s life they served a greater good honorably and faithly. No matter the station in life recently. Whether an upstanding leader, plagued with troubling demons, or any station in between at some point the deceased served and was willing to sacrifice for others. This is meant to help bring closure to the family and, hopefully, dull that sharp feeling of loss.
The presenting of the flag to the next of kin is a moving and memorable part of a military funeral. It brings home the shared feelings of everyone attending especially to those serving presently or who have served.