Lying in State, Lying in Honor and Lying in Repose: What They Mean and How They Work

A military body bearer team carries an urn with the cremated remains of Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr., the last living Korean War Medal of Honor recipient, into the U.S. Capitol, April 29, 2024. The U.S. Army veteran passed away April 8, 2024, at the age of 97. (U.S. Army/Bernardo Fuller)

Col. Ralph Puckett, the last living Medal of Honor recipient of the Korean War, died in his sleep on April 8, 2024, at age 97. On April 29, his urn was lain in honor in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Puckett wasn’t the first prominent American to lie in honor in the Rotunda and likely won’t be the last. Others, such as former U.S. presidents and longtime senators, have lain in state. So what’s the difference between the two?

Read: Army Ranger Legend and Last Living Korean War Medal of Honor Recipient Ralph Puckett Dies at 97

The Architect of the Capitol, the office that coordinates such ceremonies, calls the Rotunda “the most suitable place for the nation to pay final tribute to its most eminent citizens.” The difference between lying in state and lying in honor is really just dependent on who is being honored, and there are no hard, fast rules or regulations governing who gets the distinction.

“It’s determined by Congress on a case-by-case basis,” the Architect’s office told

Lying in State vs. Lying in Honor

The Capitol’s website says lying in state is typically used for U.S. government officials and military officers, while lying in honor is for private citizens, but the Architect of the Capitol reiterates that either honor is bestowed only by Congress. ​​Although “any person who has rendered distinguished service to the nation may lie in state if the family so wishes and Congress approves,” custom dictates lying in state is an honor reserved for ex-presidents, members of Congress and high-ranking military officials.

When in the Rotunda, remains lying in state are guarded by one member of each branch of the U.S. armed forces facing the casket or coffin, rifles in their right hand and the butt of the rifle on the floor. The remains are placed on a catafalque, a wooden platform designed explicitly for the ceremony. The Capitol usually uses the Lincoln catafalque, the same one used to support President Abraham Lincoln’s casket after his assassination in 1865.

George H. W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, lies in state at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. on December 4, 2018. (DoD/Spc. Joseph Friend)

The primary difference between lying in state and lying in honor is the honor guard watching the deceased’s remains. When someone lies in honor, the U.S. Capitol Police serves as a civilian honor guard, as it did in the case of Puckett.

Lying in Repose

While lying in state or honor is just a more formal way for the United States to honor those who have made some kind of distinguished service to the country, lying in repose is an honor anyone can achieve. It just means making a prominent figure available for public viewing -- just not in the Capitol Rotunda.

There are those who were eligible to lie in state but opted not to, such as former President Richard Nixon and Sen. Ted Kennedy. Rather than lay in state, Nixon lay in repose at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California. Kennedy lay in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Deceased Supreme Court justices usually lay in repose in the Supreme Court’s Great Hall.

No matter how they lie, the ceremonial public viewing is usually the last stop for the deceased before making their way to their final resting place. The last American who lay in honor was Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, on July 14, 2022.

The first American to lie in state was former Speaker of the House, Senator and Secretary of State Henry Clay in 1852. Since then, 45 prominent men and women have received the honor.

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