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March 31, 2013

VETERANS’ CORNER: Meanings to the folding of a flag

By JIM VINES

Having recently attended a veteran’s funeral service, I overheard a disagreement between some attendees regarding the reciting of meanings during each fold of the flag. The meaning of the folding of the American flag is not without importance. However, meanings of each fold are not official and not required.

Public Law 94-344, known as the Federal Flag Code, is the law of the land regarding the handling of the American flag. It does not include anything regarding the significance or meaning of folding the flag. The code was adopted in 1923 and only stipulates how the flag is to be handled, folded, stored or presented to a family member at a funeral ceremony.

In October 2007, the National Cemetery Administration banned the practice of giving the meaning of the folds of the flag at all national cemeteries. This decision was revised by the Department of Veterans Affairs that same month. To ensure burial services at the 125 national cemeteries operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs reflect the wishes of veterans and their families, the VA says that any recitations at the graveside of a veteran can reflect the wishes of the family. If the family wants meanings recited with the folds included, it may do so.

In the U.S. Armed Forces, at the ceremony of retreat the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation’s honored dead. The next morning it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body.

Traditional gravesite military funeral honors include the silent folding and presentation of a U.S. flag, three rifle volleys and the playing of “Taps.” Any and all volunteer honor guards are authorized to recite meanings with the folding of the flag. Survivors of the deceased need to provide material and request it be read by the volunteer honor guard. Volunteer honor guards will accept requests for recitations that reflect any or no religious traditions  on an equal basis.

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