Saturday, May 31, 2008

honor guard

I went to a funeral this afternoon. It was in remembrance of the sister of a woman with whom I attend church and volunteer for Habitat. The same woman who was my sixth grade teacher, oh, say, 7 years ago. Maybe it wasn't 7 years. Moving on.

I didn't know the woman, Jane, who was being remembered. Jane was a daughter, sister, aunt, great-aunt who was really loved by her family, and they honored her life today. Jane had a career as a sergeant in the United States' Air Force; her job was tracking missiles and other dangerous things. She was so good at what she did that many US policies regarding missiles and things of that sort (which I do not understand so you will have to bear with me on this), were based on her recommendations and strategies she made up. Even Great Britain's RAF studied her ideas and implemented some.

Jane had received many a commendation throughout the course of her career, and the final recognition from the USAF came today at her service.

The Honor Guard.

I have never been to the funeral of a military person before, and the experience of watching the two men handle the American flag was really profound. I was sitting in the sanctuary of my church, between The Mister's Mama and Bec. The room had the quiet hiss of whispers, but with the first click of the Honor Guard's shoes, silence fell. The men slowly marched to the front of the church, approaching the altar, and turned right to stand in front of Jane's family. One held a folded American flag. He turned to face the second of the Honor Guard, and in a series of purposeful movements, inspected the flag, and presented it to the second man, who also inspected the flag.

They unfolded the flag, first untucking the end from the triangle, then took it from triangle-shaped to thin rectangle revealing the red and white stripes, then a wider rectangle (folded in half), finally unfolding it. At the moment the Honor Guard was standing with The Flag displayed between them, Taps began to play.

I think every person in that room had difficulty breathing.

When Taps ended, the Honor Guard re-folded the flag. Rectangles, then triangles, the red and white disappeared with only the blue field with white stars remaining. The end was retucked, the folds smoothed, the flag inspected. The second man presented it to the first.

The first member of the Honor Guard gently took the flag and knelt down before Jane's mother, and said, On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of Sergeant Jane G...

He said more, but the sniffling drowned out his words.

It was beautiful.

The formality of the flag-folding made me wonder what the specific motions symbolized, and why the flag was folded just so. All of the websites I read had the exact same information, so I am sharing it with you.

The first fold in our flag is a symbol of life.

The second fold is a symbol of our belief in eternal life.

The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veterans departing our ranks who gave a portion of their lives for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.

The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.

The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur "Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong."

The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all of her enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.

The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on Mother's Day.

The ninth fold is in tribute to womanhood; for it has been through their faith, their love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great has been molded.

The tenth fold is a tribute to the father, for he too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since they were first born.

The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in the eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding us of our nation's motto: "In God We Trust."

After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a tucked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington, and of the sailors and marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones, who was followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today. This final condition represents the thirteenth fold.

This tradition is so old that there is nobody on record as The Author of the Flag Fold. Now we all know that I've been wrong before, but all of the info I have read says that nobody knows. So if you are that blessed individual who has That Sort Of Information, correct me gently and point yourself in the direction of the Smithsonian, because they care.

The beauty of the tradition lies in the remembering and the honoring. Our society does not value remembering and honoring the way it used to. The simple act of folding our flag honors so many.

Every time our American Flag is folded, it honors God. And that is a lot to think about in this time of, well, whatever this time in the hereandnow is. So think about that, and get back to me.


  1. I got all choked up. Thank you for giving us this info. I will always think of it when I see the flag being folded. I'm going to share it with the GS.

  2. i heart you, non-anonymous-to-me anonymous.

  3. I'm just seeing this now when I clicked on the link about mom's golfballs. Thank you for this, so much. I just missed her coming home, and then had to go back before the service happened, and this is the most detail I've heard about it.


talk to me, people. because you know i get all giddy when you do.