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.