Fisking a Flag-Fold Flogging


Update, March 24, 2007: Be sure to see the updated flag ceremony, which you can find through this post on the news of the its release.

Yes, the flag amendment is dead, again. Yes, the Fourth of July is past. False history continues to plague the U.S. flag, however. When my wife forwarded to me the post below, it was the fourth time I had gotten it, recently. Bad history travels fast and far. Let’s see if we can steer people in a better direction with real facts.

Here is the post as it came to me each time — I’ve stripped it of the sappy photos that are occasionally added; note that this is mostly whole cloth invention:

Did You Know This About Our Flag

Meaning of Flag Draped Coffin.

All Americans should be given this lesson. Those who think that America is an arrogant nation should really reconsider that thought. Our founding fathers used God’s word and teachings to establish our Great Nation and I think it’s high time Americans get re-educated about this Nation’s history. Pass it along and be proud of the country we live in and even more proud of those who serve to protect our “GOD GIVEN” rights and freedoms.

To understand what the flag draped coffin really means……

Here is how to understand the flag that laid upon it and is surrendered to so many widows and widowers.

Do you know that at military funerals, the 21-gun salute stands for the sum of the numbers in the year 1776?

Have you ever noticed the honor guard pays meticulous attention to correctly folding the United States of America Flag 13 times? You probably thought it was to symbolize the original 13 colonies, but we learn something new every day!

The 1st fold of the flag is a symbol of life.
The 2nd fold is a symbol of the belief in eternal life.
The 3rd fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veterans departing the ranks who gave a portion of their lives for the defense of the country to attain peace throughout the world.
The 4th fold represents the weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in time of war for His divine guidance.
The 5th fold is a tribute to the 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 6th fold is for where people’s hearts lie. It is with their heart that they pledge allegiance to the flag of the United! States Of America, and the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
The 7th fold is a tribute to its Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that they protect their country and their flag against all her enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of their republic.
The 8th 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.
The 9th fold is a tribute to womanhood, and Mothers. 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 10th fold is a tribute to the father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of their country since they were first born.
The 11th fold represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies in the Hebrews eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The 12th fold represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in the Christians eyes, God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.
The 13th fold, or when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding them of their nations motto, “In God We Trust.”

After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington, and the Sailors and Marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones, who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for them the rights, privileges and freedoms they enjoy today.
There are some traditions and ways of doing things that have deep meaning. In the future, you’ll see flags folded and now you will know why.
Share this with the children you love and all! others who love what is referred to, the symbol of “Liberty and Freedom.”

MAYBE THE SUPREME COURT SHOULD READ THIS EXPLANATION BEFORE THEY RENDER THEIR DECISION ON THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. FORWARD IT; MAYBE SOMEONE WITH THE NECESSARY POWER, OR POLITICAL AND FINANCIAL INFLUENCE, WILL GET IT TO THEM.

IN THE MEANTIME, MAY GOD PROTECT US ALWAYS.

ONE NATION, UNDER GOD, WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.

That’s the post that I’ve gotten. Here are my thoughts.

Flag folds have no official symbolism: One may create a flag ceremony that talks of American values, but it is complete hooey to claim that there is any particular symbolism attached to folding the flag. Flag etiquette, for years the domain of the U.S. Marine Corps, the American Legion and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), is now prescribed by a section of U.S. law (without teeth) generally known as the U.S. Flag Code, 4 USC 1. Were there official symbolism to folding the flag, that is where it would be prescribed. Checking the law, we find no such symbolism. The U.S. flag code does not prescribe or describe any method of folding the flag. The triangular fold we teach Boy Scouts, used by the military honor guards, is actually a naval invention. Flags folded in that fashion can be attached to a lanyard and hoisted immediately — and the flag will neatly unfurl as it goes up. We use the fold on land for the same reason. It’s a traditional fold that predates our flag.

So the mythology attempted to be ascribed to the flag’s folding, even when inspirational, has no foundation in history or law. The polemical comments at the end of the e-mail suggest the original author wanted to make a statement about the Newdow Pledge of Allegiance case (in which the Ninth Circuit accepted Dr. Newdow’s arguments that “under God” was illegally inserted into the pledge, but the Supreme Court dodged by ruling Newdow lacked standing — see Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow (02-1624) 542 U.S. 1 (2004) 328 F.3d 466, reversed)). That case is old, by now. As with most internet legends, though, this flag-folding folderol lives on.

With that as background, let’s look at specific claims.

1. The 21-gun salute has nothing to do with 1776. According to the U.S. Army, the salute dates back to the 14th century — well before the European discovery of the Americas. Britain promoted a 21-gun salute in the 18th century, well before the American Revolution. We can understand that the fact that the numerals in 1776 add up to 21 is coincidence, and has no significance to U.S. flag mythology.

Even more telling is the fact that the U.S. did not use a 21-gun salute originally, but instead used as many guns as there were states. Again, according to the Army’s Center for Military History:

The gun salute system of the United States has changed considerably over the years. In 1810, the “national salute” was defined by the War Department as equal to the number of states in the Union–at that time 17. This salute was fired by all U.S. military installations at 1:00 p.m. (later at noon) on Independence Day. The President also received a salute equal to the number of states whenever he visited a military installation.

In 1842, the Presidential salute was formally established at 21 guns. In 1890, regulations designated the “national salute” as 21 guns and redesignated the traditional Independence Day salute, the “Salute to the Union,” equal to the number of states. Fifty guns are also fired on all military installations equipped to do so at the close of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.

Today the national salute of 21 guns is fired in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the President, ex-President and President-elect of the United States. It is also fired at noon of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.

2. Using the 13 colonies is just a mnemonic device to help flag folders figure out if they fold the flag correctly, or more likely, a mnemonic device to help kids remember the 13 colonies. If the flag in its prescribed dimensions is folded correctly, there will be 13 folds. Were the flag longer, or narrower, there would be more. From having folded the flag several hundred times, I can tell you that it is completely unnecessary to count the folds in the process. If the folds are too loose, it becomes apparent within a couple of folds.

For Scout ceremonies, I prefer using the Scout Motto, “Do your best Be prepared!,” with the first fold, accompanied by the twelve points of the Scout Law for the remaining folds: “A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.”

3. The religious meaning would be illegal if official for folds 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 11, 12, and 13. If the author of this canard wishes to imply that the “founders” intended such religious meaning, he or she is excluding the intent of founders like George Washington, Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, to mention a few, who disagreed with much of the theology implied and/or believed such discussions inappropriate in public documents, laws, and actions. The recent Newdow case notwithstanding, any legislation with such religious overtones would have difficulty getting approval even of our current Congress, let alone earlier, less religious versions. Congress tends to avoid making such statements in legislation, and has never done so with regard to the flag.

4. No one disagrees that the flag represents the sacrifices of citizens who preceded us, soldiers, mothers, fathers, legislators, judges, farmers, factory workers, tribal chiefs, immigrant builders of railroads, cowboys, farmers, and even kids. We are all members of the Republic, after all. Were I to write a whole cloth mythology for the flag, I think I would dwell on those people and their conscious sacrifices for community good, in place of the overtly Christian symbolism. (That would be better Christian behavior as well, in my opinion.)

5. Good grief! They got the words of Stephen Decatur wrong! I rely on Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 16th Edition. Stephan Decatur, hero of the skirmishes with Tripoli and the War of 1812, offered a toast to the nation, at a banquet at Norfolk, Virginia, in April 1816: “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.” One can only speculate at what odd urges drive someone to strike the word “intercourse” from a statement of a great man.

6. The naval method of folding flags predates the Pledge of Allegiance by 200 years at least. The phrase “one nation, under God, indivisible,” didn’t exist until 1954. As originally adopted by Congress in 1931, the Pledge said “one nation indivisible.” (There is some great irony in the use of “under God” to break up “nation indivisible,” is there not?) The original pledge was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892, long after the folding of the flag was tradition. It is simple error of history to describe a folding process as honoring a concept not written until long after the folding process was created and promulgated. “Under God” was added in 1954 after a lobbying campaign by the Knights of Columbus, to distinguish the U.S. from the “godless” Soviet Union.

7. Twelve folds until 1956? According to the faux symbolism above, the 12th fold represents the U.S. motto, “In God We Trust.” That was declared the nation’s motto in 1956 (Public Law 84-140). Are we to understand that there was no 12th fold until 1956?

Prior to 1956, questions about the nation’s motto usually were answered with reference to the Seal of the United States, which bears three mottos: “E Pluribus Unum” on the obverse (Out of many, one), and “Novus Ordo Seclorum” (A new order of the ages), and “Annuit Coeptis” (Providence has favored our undertakings) on the reverse. Those mottoes are based on lines from the poetry of the Roman, Virgil.

8. Any resemblance of a triangle to a tricorn hat is purely coincidental. We already noted that the folding procedure preceded the American Revolution. No one, at any time, made a search to find a way of folding the flag to resemble a tricorn hat. Nor for that matter were tricorns supposed to resemble a folded flag. A tricorn hat adorns the statues of the Minutemen in Massachusetts, but far from all soldiers in the Continental Army wore them — some Virginians probably avoided them as crude affectations by the backwards, unrefined New Englanders (see David McCullough’s wonderful book, 1776).

Clearly, this folding-of-the-flag e-mail piece should not be something any court bases any decision on, nor should it be offered to innocent children as an explanation of anything. It is rife with errors, and where it strays close to accuracy, it ascribes erroneous motive.

I have toyed with the idea of presenting such a thing to a class, with their assignment being to find the errors and correct them. Pedagogically, it may be better for students to learn the correct stuff first.

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24 Responses to Fisking a Flag-Fold Flogging

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    “Written up?” By whom? For what?

    1. No enforcement mechanism exists to force compliance with the Flag Code. There is no list of penalties.

    2. What your friend did is considered proper procedure by the Marines and Boy Scouts. Who thought differently, and why?

    Like

  2. June Dvorak says:

    A friend of mine was alone while trying to take down an oversized flag meant to be handled by two people. Because it was impossible to fold it alone, he just rolled it up and took it inside. He has since been written up for mishandling the flag. He is a vietnam veteran who served his country well and respects the flag and is wondering if he commited some great offense against his flag?

    Like

  3. Jan says:

    The flag folding email is doing the rounds again and here it is 2010. Just received it from my sister and she believes it word for word. She gets annoyed when I contradict the contents of any email that is full of crap. It worries me that so many people are so easily led and believe the contents of these type of emails.

    Like

  4. Thanks for this informative review

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  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Two tricks usually work for non-displayed foldings, Lori. First, be sure to put one side of the second lengthwise fold slightly inside — a half-inch to an inch. Then be sure to put that fold inside. That leaves you with nothing but blue field to show at the end.

    The second is trickier, and it helps to have some practice. Flags may stretch a bit with wear. I usually fold the end of the flag in, at least the depth of the seam, to start out. That shortens the length of the flag, and should leave you with just enough at the end to tuck it in.

    I hope words explain what I’m saying. I don’t have a graphic. There used to be a video at the Las Vegas Review-Journal site. Let me see if I can find that.

    Update: Found it, sort of. There are photos at the site, including this one, which shows a military color guard folding the flag slightly eccentricly, which is what I was talking about.
    Flag folding, from the Las Vegas Review-Journal
    [http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2006/Jul-04-Tue-2006/photos/1flag1.jpg]

    You can see that the inside, the top of the flag in this picture, will have the red hidden by the blue field at the next fold (I hope).

    The full article is here:
    http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2006/Jul-04-Tue-2006/news/8304650.html

    I wrote about it here:
    http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2006/11/06/news-coverage-of-new-flag-ceremony-for-air-force/

    Like

  6. Lori says:

    Thanks for your information about flag folding. I am having trouble with getting a flag folded so that NO red shows at the crack where there is a right angle when the folding is completed. Do you have any hints? The flags I am working with are very slippery nylon. We don’t want the red to show when they are put into a case for display and the case is completely clear so the right-angle corner is quite visible.

    Like

  7. Brenda says:

    My father is dedicated patriot. Two wars, two cancers. any man that would have tears running down his face talking about the red coats fighting for freedom or sleeping on the ground for two years in Vietnam or Afghan deserves not to have their faith in country questioned. 12,13, Blah Blah Blah. Don’t question the umbrella that shields you. People are inherently good.

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  8. My name is William F. Spivey, Sr. I served as a National Cemetery Director for 32 &1/2/ years . I retired from the Houston National Cemetery in June 1986. I served during WW II in the 37Th Combat Infantry Division and am the recipient of the Purple Hearts
    with one oak leaf cluster..

    I read with dismay about the “Folding of the Flag.” I was the one who wrote the Flag Folding Service in 1957 while serving as the Superintendent of Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Nebraska and revised it through the years.. I needed to refold a flag in my office when my six year old daughter asked to help me fold it, I started making the thirteen folds, as she held one end of the flag she asked what each fold meant. I told her I did not know but I would find out. I checked the Army Regulations, Boy Scout Manuals and Encyclopedias and I could not find any information. I asked the U.S Army Quartermaster General National Cemetery Division and they could not find any information in the records that indicated a meaning for each fold had ever been written. Most of the burials at Fort McPherson National Cemetery were veterans who died at one of the three VA Hospitals in Nebraska. I had transferred from the San Antonio National Cemetery to Nebraska and was accustomed to having a Chaplain and Full Military Honors furnished from Fort Sam Houston Military post or from an Air Base. My first burial was of a veteran that had no next of kin and I was expecting at least a Chaplain for the service. In times past the hearse driver delivered the remains of a veteran, lowered them in a grave and left a flag in a box…

    As a result, I informed the next caller from a VA Hospital to send a Chaplain or obtain a local clergyman to perform a religious service for the veteran. It bothered me that the veterans at this cemetery could not have Military Honors. I thought that if I could write meaningful words for each fold of the flag and use the veteran’s name in one of the folds, it would show respect for the veteran. This is the way I wrote ome of the folds: “This fold is made in honor and remembrance of ‘John Doe’ whom we we are comemmorating today, for John gave of a portion of his life for the defence of our country and our flag. We are here today from the Veterans Organizations to perform this Flag Folding Ceremony in order to show forth to John’s family and friends that his efforts to attain peace throughout the world have not been in vain and shall never be forgotten.” Out of compassion several months latter at the graveside of a lone soldier with no next of kin, I recited my first version of my Flag Folding Ceremony at his burial.

    Since that time, I have recited my Flag Folding Ceremony at the request of families on countless occasions and have never had a complaint. I also recited my Flag Folding Ceremony at a National Cemetery Conference held in Washington, DC in 1984. I have a picture of this event with my Assistant Director holding the flag with me folding and reciting the ceremony. It breaks my heart that anyone could misconstrue the meaning of this ceremony since it is so well received by the families left behind that otherwise have no honors at all. Shame on you veterans who would deprive a veteran of some form of ceremony that shows he served his country faithfully and honorably.

    William F. Spivey, Sr.
    1206 Latta Lane
    Orlando, FL, 32804

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  9. [...] Except that they ARE meaningless words in the script, violative of tradition and law, historically inaccurate, and insulting to the memory of patriots like George Washington. The do not honor the past, portraying a false past instead. The ceremony is not traditional, having been written only in the past three decades or so. The script departs radically from the historic path of America’s patriots, defending freedom without regard to profession of faith. [...]

    Like

  10. Master Sergeant, Retired says:

    (continuation of Master Sergeant, Retired comments)

    …nor allow a solemn military tradition (the SILENT folding ceremony and presentation to the next of kin) to be cluttered up with made-up significance, religious or otherwise.

    Tradition loses all meaning when you tart it up with the latest feel-good symbolism, or adulterate it with made-up “history.” And the assault on military traditions has taken on a peculiar vehemence in recent years. For two centuries, only US military veterans were accorded the honor of an American flag placed on their coffins (you know, the same one wer’re talking about folding?). Since up until recent times, almost all police officers were military veterans, most cops were entitled to a military funeral. Now, however, military service is far, far less common among cops, but somehow they got the idea they were entitled to military funerals, with the US flag on the coffin, the bugler playing Taps, and the 21-gun firing volley. Most cops seem to be buried with the honors due a military veteran. The military services & veterans groups won’t participate, of course, but the cops seem to just “roll their own” and crank up a military funeral for themselves. Tacky … shameful …. but it happens. Many of us military vets are wondering if it’s OK for us to be buried, say, in an NYPD uniform, with badge …? After all, why shouldn’t we also be entitled to burial with honors WE haven’t earned?

    This is the sort of nonsense that inevitably happens when you make up tradition as you go along. And adding this religious recitation to our traditional ceremony is not only just wrong — it’s downright offensive.

    Like

  11. Master Sergeant, Retired says:

    This tacked-on “recitation” while the flag-folding takes place is NOT a tradition at all, but a very recent novelty begun, apparently, by some well-meaning people at the American Legion and VFW, who generally perform, or at least organize, many of the military funerals at civilian cemeteries & smaller national cemeteries throughout the world.

    I spent 21 yrs on active duty all over the world, including several years in the D.C. area, and attended or participated in hundreds of military funerals, from 1964 to 1985, and then attended a number of them at Arlington Cemetery after I retired. I never heard this recitation “performed” during the ceremony at any of these funerals — one of which was for (Five Star) General Omar Bradley. It also never happened at my father’s military burial in 1957. Calling this basically religious (and extremely inaccurate) recitation a “tradition” is … well, let’s not mince words: it’s a lie, pure and simple.

    This article covers it pretty well. The number of folds has no significance whatsoever to those 13 points that some (probably well-meaning) person dreamed up in recent years. Those 13 folds are purely a function of the proportions of the flag, and the need to raise & lower it easily without letting it touch the ground, and this method of folding predates 1776 by several centuries.

    No one objects to the religious aspects of military funeral — military chaplains often officiate and offer prayers — and I’d have no personal objection to some added-on religious reading IF, and only IF, the reading weren’t so completely inaccurate and misleading. We should not lend dignity to historical untruths, nor allow a solemn military tradition (the SILENT folding ceremony and presentation to the next of kin)

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  12. Ed Darrell says:

    Jim, see earlier comments in this thread. I wonder why the American Legion has it on their website, too, but they choose to keep it. It’s not an official ceremony, it’s not a ceremony endorsed by anyone, and it contains a few historical inacccuracies — but you may use it if you choose.

    Official departments of the federal government don’t use it.

    Like

  13. Jim says:

    Hi I read this an wonder why the American legion on their website has this flag ceremony that talks of American values word for word are they wrong also this has been going on all over the place this flag folding ceremony the 13 folds is it wrong to do it. ? Jim

    Like

  14. Machelle says:

    In your effort to be correct please note:

    The Cub Scout Motto (boys 1st – 5th grade) is: “Do Your Best”
    The Boy Scout Motto (boys aged 11-17) is : “Be Prepared”

    Also being a scout leader who likes to teach the scouts properly the mass of misinformation about the flag out there is very frustrating!

    Like

  15. [...] ceremony update, 2 In comments to the first post on flag folding, Chris noted that the American Legion’s website has the ceremony I fisked, verbatim. So I [...]

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  16. [...] As a lifelong Boy Scout and Scouter, I have lived with flag etiquette so long as I can remember. One of the key parts of flag etiquette with the U.S. flag is the proper folding, done to allow the flag to unfurl neatly when hoisted on a lanyard. (I have earlier discussed the meaning of folding the flag, or rather, the lack of meaning, here, here, and here.) [...]

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  17. [...] A nice mention today from the Carnival of Bad History, hosted by David Beito at Liberty and Power (part of the History News Network site) — pointing to my posts correcting the history behind folding the U.S. flag. [...]

    Like

  18. edarrell says:

    Chris, the American Legion responds that they provide this listing of a flag ceremony as a service to people, and they plan to continue. As best I can tell, they plan to continue the errors as well as the good spirit. I have corresponence with them today (August 1) saying they will continue.

    Like

  19. bernarda says:

    Death threats for flying the flag upsidedown.

    http://progressive.org/mag_mc071906

    ““The next thing I knew I’d been charged with disorderly conduct,” he says. “I was surprised. I have the right and the freedom to do that.”

    On July 6, Klyn, represented by the Iowa ACLU, met with a magistrate.

    “I pled not guilty,” Klyn says. “No trial date has been set.” Terri Jones, by the way, went to court that day to support him.

    “She came to my hearing,” he says. “It was very kind of her.”

    Alan Wilson, the county attorney who is prosecuting the case, did not return three phone messages for comment.

    But Klyn’s troubles go beyond this court case.

    He faces death threats from a forum on a Marine vets’ website, http://www.leatherneck.com, which calls itself the “Marine Corps Community for USMC Veterans.”

    That forum contained the following remarks from four different Marines:

    “Any scout snipers live in Corydon, Iowa???”

    “Corn hole ’m.”

    “Fly him under it upside down.”

    “If the flag is flying upside down, it means he is in trouble, right? I think we Marines should show up and get him ‘out’ of trouble.”

    Says Klyn: “I view it as a threat.””

    Like

  20. russell says:

    It’s sad that all these hoakum histories are created to imbue something that has so much intrinsic meaning already.

    Like

  21. bernarda says:

    Flagophiles should also look up Mark Twain’s anti-imperialist writings, including mention of the flag.

    “I am not finding fault with this use of our flag; for in order not to seem eccentric I have swung around, now, and joined the nation in the conviction that nothing can sully a flag. I was not properly reared, and had the illusion that a flag was a thing which must be sacredly guarded against shameful uses and unclean contacts, lest it suffer pollution; and so when it was sent out to the Philippines to float over a wanton war and a robbing expedition I supposed it was polluted, and in an ignorant moment I said so. But I stand corrected. I concede and acknowledge that it was only the government that sent it on such an errand that was polluted. Let us compromise on that. I am glad to have it that way. For our flag could not well stand pollution, never having been used to it, but it is different with the administration.”

    http://www.boondocksnet.com/ai/twain/mtws_flag.html

    Twain also had a version of the flag for the imperialist war in the Philippines,

    “And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one–our States do it: we can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.”

    http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/twain.html

    Like

  22. Ed Darrell says:

    That’s most interesting, Chris. I’ve sent the American Legion an e-mail asking about their website.

    Like

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