Military Burial Protocol


Military burials are distinctly different from civilian burials. Certain protocol must take place in order to properly honor those who honorably served in the United States Armed Forces. Flag folding, casket lowering and burial point marking are all included with this protocol. Protocol also dictates how to honor the loved ones or next of kin for standing by their soldiers during times of service.

Qualified Persons

  • Not every person who served in the military is authorized for military burial. Service members convicted of a federal or state capital crime cannot receive military burial honors. Neither can military members who were found guilty of such crimes but have fled to avoid or died in lieu of prosecution. Federal capital crimes include those in which life imprisonment or the death penalty have been imposed; state capital crimes include intentional unlawful killing of another human in which life imprisonment or the death penalty have been imposed.


  • Military burial ceremonies typically include burial with the American flag. Another American flag is presented to the spouse via a special flag folding ceremony. It is conducted by an honor guard, which shall include at least one member of the buried person's branch of service. Upon casket lowering, "Taps" will be played by an honor guard member. In some burials, a three-rifle volley is performed, where honor guard members fire three shots over the grave to signify the member has been laid to rest.

Burial Location

  • Qualified military members are authorized burial in designated national military cemeteries, such as Arlington National Cemetery. The Veterans Administration reports that there are national military cemeteries in every state as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Some states have their own veterans cemeteries and the VA has its own cemeteries in 39 states. Members who are buried in private cemeteries can still be buried with military honors.

Headstones and Markers

  • Some soldiers are buried in private, unmarked graves without indication of their military service. The VA also provides headstones and markers for unmarked graves for veterans in any cemetery, so long as they are qualifying veterans. Headstones can display the member's branch of service and campaigns served. Although the headstones and markers are free of charge, placing the marker and setting fees are the applicant's responsibility.

Presidential Certificate

  • The Presidential Memorial Certificate honors the deceased veteran, as well. It is an engraved paper certificate signed by the current president. The certificate expresses recognition of the member's service and is given to the next of kin or loved ones of the deceased. They must apply for a certificate via the VA Form 40-2047.

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