Flag ceremony update


Earlier I wrote about a flag-folding ceremony that is making the internet rounds. I noted that much of the claimed mythology is, um, ahistoric.

There is no particular meaning attached to folding the flag. Comments noted that the ceremony making the internet rounds is posted at the website of the American Legion. I wrote to the Legion’s public relations department, but have heard nothing back. Generally, the information on flag etiquette at that site is solid. Only the flag-folding ceremony material is not top-notch. I would be happy were the Legion to add a note that the ceremony is a sample ceremony. Several sites mention that the ceremony comes “from the U.S. Air Force Academy.” One site even had a link, but the link was dead. I did find a few sources that explained further. The Air Force Academy web site may have featured a flag-folding ceremony at one point, perhaps even the one being passed around. One of the more popular ceremonies featured had been written by one of the chaplains at USAFA. As happens in the military, someone got concerned about the accuracy of the claims, and the ceremony was pulled. However, Air Force color guards had used the ceremony, and there was demand for something to say during the folding of the U.S. flag, at some ceremonies.

Below the fold, at some length, I reprint the “official” story.

So something “correct” was promulgated in 2005. That is, I found references to the “new” ceremony to come in a couple of air base newspapers. Then I found online the training manual for Air Force honor guards, from December 2001, from the 11th Wing, 11th Operations Group, United State Air Force Honor Guard Technical Training School, Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C. So here are the “official” notes, chronologically, first from the Honor Guard Training School in 2001:

14.6.1. Totally, the flag is folded in two parts reminding us of 2 parts of life; our birth and death and our life here and hereafter. The red and white stripes interchange throughout our flag reminding us; in the red, of the blood and hardships of life and in the white, of the purity and goodness of life. Every life has both red and white. The flag is carefully folded into the shape of the tri-cornered hat, reminiscent of the hats worn by the soldiers who fought and won the revolution for American independence. The three fold also reminds Christians of the 3-in-1 of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The red and white are soon folded and only blue and the stars are seen, reminding us of heaven. When our life of red and white is over, may only heaven remain?

This ceremony is much, much less text, and less specificity that I found historically objectionable than the ceremony offered in the internet example. If I understand the later documents correctly, even this ceremony raised concerns with the legal arm of the Air Force. The Sunburst is published at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, near Alamogordo. The issue of Friday, May 27, 2005, carried a feature on honor guards, and on page 17, had this description of the ceremony; note the lengths the author reached to avoid endorsing any such ceremony as “official”:

The flag folding ceremony: honoring the end

Folding the flag is done to honor the end of something; the end of the duty day at Retreat, the career of a service member or the life of a veteran during his or her funeral. It has also been performed at events celebrating national holidays such as Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, and for solemn events such as to honor those that perished September 11, 2001. The U.S. flag is folded any time it is not flown, displayed, or draped upon the casket of a veteran.

Ceremony stipulations The Flag-folding ceremony is not an officially sanctioned Air Force ceremony. The Office of the Staff Judge Advocate released guidance that allows the performance of the ceremony, but with stipulations:

• As part of a military member’s retirement, the ceremony must be specifically introduced as being performed at the request of the retiree.

• That any Air Force members participating in the Flagfold Ceremony must have volunteered to do so.

• No military office, such as the base Protocol office or the Honor Guard, may distribute or recommend any script that assigns specific meaning to the folds of the United States Flag. The Flag-fold ceremony can also be performed as a “silent fold”, with no script read aloud.

Retirement ceremony As part of their retirement ceremony, the retiree ay choose to have the folded flag presented to their spouse, parents, other family members or donate it to an organization.

Frivolous events The Flag-fold ceremony should not be performed for frivolous events, “just to have it” such as a meeting that has nothing to do with national pride, service, or sacrifice. The folding of our flag should not to be denigrated by trivial use. If you have been assigned as a point of contact to arrange a retirement ceremony, or have an event scheduled and are considering a performance of the ceremony, contact Tech. Sgt. Marty Haynes at 572-2077 for more information.

A few months later we find a similar story in The Border Eagle, the base newspaper at Laughlin AFB, Nevada (issue of August 26, 2005, Vol. 53, No. 34, p. 7):

New flag-folding script focuses on history, Air Force significance
By Staff Sgt. Todd Lopez

Air Force Print News WASHINGTON — Air Force leaders recently approved a new script that can be read during flag-folding ceremonies.

Though there are no official ceremonies in the Air Force that require a script to be read when a flag is folded, unofficial ceremonies such as retirements often do, said Lt. Col. Samuel Hudspath, Air Force protocol chief.

“We have had a tradition within the Air Force of individuals requesting that a flag be folded, with words, at their retirement ceremony,” he said. “This new script was prepared by Air Force services to provide Air Force recognized words to be used at those times.”

“There is no shortage of scripts available that can be read aloud during a flag folding, but many of those scripts are religious in nature and also ascribe meaning to the individual folds put into the flag. One of the oldest of those scripts is attributed to an anonymous chaplain at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Individuals who hear those scripts end up attributing the contents of the script to the U.S. Air Force. But the reality is that neither Congress, nor federal laws related to the flag, assign any special meaning to the individual folds. Colonel Hudspath said that was the primary motive for creating a new flag-folding script.

“Our intent was to move away from giving meaning, or appearing to give meaning, to the folds of the flag and to just speak to the importance of the flag in U.S. Air Force history,” he said.

The new script, approved in July, focuses on flag history and the significance of the flag within the Air Force: “Today, our flag flies on constellations of Air Force satellites that circle our globe, and on the fin flash of our aircraft in harms way in every corner of the world. Indeed, it flies in the heart of every Airman who serves our great nation. The sun never sets on our Air Force, nor on the flag we so proudly cherish,” the new script reads.

The new script is available at base protocol offices for use by anybody who wants to lend significance to a flag folding, Colonel Hudspath said. The script will not be used at retreats or funerals, as those are silent ceremonies.

“These ceremonies are meaningful to individuals, especially at their retirement,” he said. “We wanted to offer a script, containing factual information, that shows respect for the flag and expresses our gratitude for those individuals who protect our country, both at home and abroad.”

By October, officials said the Air Force will make a video available to protocol offices and honor guard units that demonstrates a flagfolding ceremony using the new script.

So there you have it. The ceremony making the internet circuits is not official. If anyone has a copy of the ceremony that was prescribed in its place — which also is not official, and not to be used except at the request of the recipient of the ceremony, and then only with volunteers in the Honor Guard, I would like to have a copy.

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17 Responses to Flag ceremony update

  1. Marty Haynes says:

    I’m with Todd Lopez, as to what he says in his April 12, 2007 comments. I am also the author of the article cited from the Holloman AFB “Sunburst”, May 27, 2005. Just as Todd mentions in his comments, there are no really “official” ceremonies in the Air Force, therefore I did not “reach” to avoid any endorsement of any flag-fold script. I was briefed on the “requirements” of the new ceremony and script and while I was on active duty and the NCO in Charge of the Base Honor Guard at that time, I was obligated to support it.

    My understanding as to why the AF did come out with the “officially recognized” (my emphasis) but unofficial ceremony was to eliminate or otherwise minimize the ridiculous number of differing ceremonies and scripts being performed or read both on bases and in the local civilian communities. Some of these ceremonies were written and directed with the drama of a Shakespearan play.

    A person should pay attention to what is APPROPRIATE to Honor the Flag, not to what would be the most impressive thing that could be done.

    Since I left the Base Honor Guard at Holloman AFB and retired from the Air Force, I have seen several articles or comments mentioning the flag-fold ceremony being used for Military Funeral Honors. This bothers me for a few reasons, the very first being that a Military Funeral or Memorial Service is no place for such a thing! Each Military Service does have its own official protocols and procedures for honoring its veterans during Military Funeral Honors. If the family or veteran organization wants to do a flag-fold ceremony to honor the deceased, then let them do so separately from the funeral and certainly NOT with the Flag that drapes the casket!!!

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  2. [...] “Flag ceremony update” (and see this comment from Air Force Staff Sgt. Todd Lopez) [...]

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  3. Todd Lopez says:

    Ed,

    You can go here: http://www.af.mil/main/contactus.asp to initiate a query. Somebody from the Pentagon Air Force Public Affairs directorate will read your query. They should respond quickly to that. I don’t know if they’ll give it to you or not. It’s certainly not classified or anything. You can offer to send a blank tape, as they may site cost as a reason they can’t do it. If they still say no, then you might mention the Freedom of Information Act, “FOIA”. That sets off alarm bells, becasue it involves a lot of paper work. However, if they process a FOIA request, you may be responcible for paying all costs involved. They could calculate in the cost of a blank tape and manhours. Or you could locate your closest Air Force Base, go to their web site, get the base operator number, request the Public Affairs office number, and ask for community relations. Then, if you mention your interest in showing the video to school groups and Boy Scouts, they may ask their local protocol office (usually less than a three minute walk from the Public Affairs staff) to provide a copy of the tape.

    If they don’t know what you’re talking about, I suggest you cite the original story URL:

    http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123011364

    Todd

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Todd, thanks for the further correction.

    Todd — the video your story mentioned. Was it ever distributed? Would it be appropriate for Scout or school groups? Is it available to the public?

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  5. Todd Lopez says:

    Thanks, Ed. But I can’t take credit for writing the ceremony itself, just the Air Force News story that promoted it. The people in Air Force Services wrote the flag script. The script was approved by the four-star generals that attended “Corona Top” at McDill Air Force Base, Florida in July 2005. The script was initially performed by the McDill AFB Honor Guard for those generals.

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  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Todd — great explanation, too. I hope people will read your explanation.

    And, by the way, the ceremony you wrote is very nice. Clean, concise, historically accurate — I hope it gets used a lot.

    Did you see the story a Las Vegas newspaper did on flag folding and the ceremony you wrote? The Las Vegas Review-Journal did a story on July 4 of last year; I blogged about it here. I especially liked the photos, taken from the roof of the hangar.

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  7. Todd Lopez says:

    Hey there. I wrote that Air Force story about the flag folding deal. It’s on my website if you search for it, and the script is there under the story. I’d like to point out that there is still is no “official” script for folding a flag. There never has been and probably never will be. This script is a suggestion, by the Air Force, of what you might read while you are folding a flag, if you want to have something to read. You could read something else, something your kid wrote. Or read nothing, or read something that touches you that you found on the Internet, or read something another military service wrote, if they choose to publish something. All of those possibilities have equal merit insofar as what is appropriate to read while folding a flag. Searching for the official flag folding script is like asking what is the “official” song to sing at a birthday party. For most of my life that song has been “Happy birthday to you…” But I wouldn’t say that is an “official” song, because I couldn’t tell you what legislative, legal, governmental, or organizational body, presiding over what group of people, has regulated that that song should be sung at a birthday party, and then had it put into law or regulation or codes that are accepted by a group of people. When we talk about flags and patriotism and such, and feel the need to ask about what is and isn’t official, we probably look to Congress and our federal laws (I do) as that important officiating source. And Congress hasn’t ascribed any meaning to the folding of the flag or the individual folds of the flag. And the Air Force, God bless them, is not a legislative body. If, however, the Air Force chose a script to read while Airmen are folding flags at official Air Force ceremonies, then they could put that in to Air Force regulations and make it official — within the Air Force, for people that wear the uniform. But I was surprised to find, when I wrote this story, that there are no such ceremonies within the Air Force. The only ceremonies in the Air Force that call for a flag to be folded are in fact silent ceremonies. Other “ceremonies,” like a retirement or a promotion or even a change of command, for instance, are not themselves “official.” The Air Force doesn’t require you to have a ceremony, a flag folding, or a script to retire, be promoted, or assume command. The drama that surrounds those events is entirely based on Air Force or local unit tradition, not regulations, and the personal wishes of the participants. Including the contents of the flag folding script, if there is to be a flag folded, and if there is to be something said during. C. Todd Lopez

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  8. C Parker says:

    http://www.usflag.org/foldflag.html

    You asked about the Flag folding ceremony going around the internet. I think this site might be the one you meant.

    Best Wishes.

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  9. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks for the link — I think that site’s been updated since I first posted this in late July. I found the script in another obscure spot, too. There was a news story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on July 4, 2006. My post on that update was last November; you can see it here:

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

    Thank you for calling to my attention the Bolling AFB site’s update. There are other government sites that have informed me they cannot update without a link to something like that site — now they can get up to date, too.

    I wonder if we can get any luck with the American Legion? (Go see, here:
    http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2006/08/02/flag-ceremony-update-2/ )

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  10. Ken says:

    The “approved” flag folding script can be found on the bolling afb honor guard website at:

    http://www.bolling.af.mil/units/honorguard/index.asp

    Link to document:

    http://www.bolling.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-060920-014.pdf

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  11. [...] Tip of the old scrub brush to Linda Case. Explore posts in the same categories: General, History, Patriotism, Accuracy, Flag etiquette [...]

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  12. edarrell says:

    Linda, the website you mentioned somehow didn’t come through. Could you repost the link?

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  13. Linda Case says:

    I am an author of a soon-to-be-published book. I have looked into the authenticity of the Flag Folding ceremony and have found information similar to yours.
    You may find the new script (July, 2005) for the unofficial flag folding ceremony on pages 3,4,5 of “Honor Guard’s New Wrinkle” by Keith Rogers (July 4, 2006). Check out this website: . Another source would be the “New Air Force Flag-Folding Script” by Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez, Air Force Print News at . You may also find some interest in “Fold the Flag Page.” It states that: “The America flag isn’t fold in this manner because the thirteen folds correspond to the original thirteen states…” . I like your website. Keep it up! LC

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  14. edarrell says:

    The Flag Code has been moved from 36 U.S.C. to 4 U.S.C. I cannot find any note there that refers to display in private homes that might suggest any more recent amendments, at least at the Findlaw.com site:

    http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/casecode/uscodes/4/toc.html

    You may want to search the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), also at the Findlaw site.

    There may be something there, but I haven’t found it yet. If you find it, please let me know.

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  15. Michael Bunch says:

    I am trying to locate the bill or ammendment to the US flag Code 36 U.S. C. sections 171-178 ammendment that president Bush signed in 2002 or 2004 that prohibited proterty owner associations from regulating how a home owner displays a US Flag. can you tell me the number, name etc of it so I can get a written copy, Thanks, Michael

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  16. [...] And then there’s Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, who debunks the religious mythology that has grown up around flag-folding ceremonies, in Flag ceremony update. [...]

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Play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes.

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