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Source: Duluth News Tribune
Date: December 21, 2011
Byline: John Marshal

Flag-folding ceremonies have no place during military honors

The Department of Veterans Affairs overstepped by requesting that VFW and American Legion honor guards read 13-fold flag recitations or other “comparable” scripts upon a request from a family.

First, honor guards represent the active military, not Veterans Affairs. Currently, honor guards provide rifle teams, buglers, pallbearers (at request), post vigils and oversight.

This recent request from Veterans Affairs is, in my opinion, audacious, especially when there is no meaning behind the folding of a flag. Flag-folding ceremonies were created to instill a sense of patriotism and are the opinions of their creators as to what flag folds could mean, not what they do mean. The U.S. Code and the active military do not recognize these scripts as official, and they should not.

Second, as captain of the Duluth Honor Guard, I am not in the business of making a family feel warm and fuzzy by doing a flag-folding ceremony. That can be left to the Americanism committees of the VFWs, American Legions or other veterans service organizations. I am there to provide the best possible military funeral honors service I can. It is my duty to take care of my men, to ensure protocol is adhered to and to make flag presentations.

I have the privy to make flag presentations more personal. That’s unlike the active military, which has many restrictions on what can and cannot be said. I want the recipient of a flag to realize how significant their loved one’s service to country was; I want them to know how their loved one helped safeguard our great nation.

People need to realize Old Glory belongs to each and every citizen of these United States. It identifies us as Americans. The flag, as the symbol of our nation, represents justice, freedom, our republican form of government, and many other attributes. Granted, our nation has many flaws; however, it is still the best nation in the world.

We may have many commonalities in beliefs and ideologies about our country, but we will never perfectly match up in such a diverse place. Flag-folds could mean anything based on that alone.

I am a combat-wounded infantryman who survived one of the largest tank battles since World War II. As a soldier, I took an oath to defend the Constitution, our country’s government and all of its institutions. I promised to obey the orders of all officers appointed over me. I fulfilled my obligation. There is no arguing I am a patriot and one of many patriots within our surrounding community. I know that when I fold a flag my thoughts are not, “The first fold is a symbol of life,” but, “What did this veteran endure during his time of service or combat?”

My message is not to discourage patriotic ceremonies or events but to inform and educate about the etiquette pertaining to the flag.

There are times and places for flag-folding ceremonies, just not when military honors are accorded.

With all due respect, the Duluth Honor Guard will not provide flag-folding ceremonies while military honors are given — ever. Unless the U.S. Flag Code changes by presidential proclamation or by an act of Congress, but I am certain that will not happen.

John Marshall is captain of the Duluth Honor Guard.

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