Every day men and women join our Armed Services, some making the ultimate sacrifice in laying down their lives. The worst moment in any spouse, parent, or child’s life is seeing the uniformed soldier walk up to your front door, knowing exactly what it is they are about to tell you. You heart races, a churning in your stomach, knowing the person you love most in the world has given their life to protect our country and freedom.
For the comrades, the most difficult duty they ever perform is driving to the home of the fallen soldier’s parents. Once they greet the family, they present a tri-folded American flag to commemorate the fallen soldier. The soldier’s comrades will say something along the lines of, “Your son/daughter fought honorably. On behalf of the President of the United States, please accept this flag as a gift in appreciation for the sacrifice your son/daughter has made.”
To honor these heroes, the military has an established a beautiful burial ceremony, with slight differences depending on the branch of armed forces in which the fallen fought and died. The wishes of the fallen soldier and the family are always taken into consideration, to ensure the preferred religious requirements are included in the ceremony.
As a military funeral begins, the flags are lowered to half-mast, in honor of the soldier who died. This gesture is often comforting to the family, knowing their departed loved one died for the country they loved, and that their memory will live on in every American by honoring his or her sacrifice.
Most funerals are presided over by a priest, minister, pastor or other religious figure, and they will speak comforting words about the fallen hero, including appropriate excerpts that are beautiful and heartening. In a military funeral, some things remain the same across the different branches of service.
Traditionally, the American flag is laid across the casket, with the blue stars over the heart (left side) of the fallen hero. Often, after the religious part of the ceremony has completed, there will be a 21 gun salute, while another soldier plays “Taps” on the trumpet. This is the most saddening part of any funeral, as the notes played pull at your heartstrings like nothing else will.
While Taps is being played, officers from the deceased’s branch of service will take the edges of the flag and begin the 13 folds, which, since the inception of this tradition, have developed multiple meanings. The most common words spoken by the officers are:
The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
The second fold is a symbol of our belief in the eternal life.
The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain a 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 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 in to 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 a tribute to womanhood; for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
The tenth fold is a tribute to 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 their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.
When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national 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 us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today. You can read more scripts for the folding of the American flag.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the flag is presented to the next of kin, often the parents, spouse, or child of the fallen hero. Depending on the branch of the Armed Services in which the deceased served, the phrase the officer says to the family upon presenting the flag may change a bit. Below are the comforting words of appreciation used, courtesy of Military Salute:
U.S. Air Force: “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 (Service Member’s rank and name).”
U.S. Army: “This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
U.S. Coast Guard: “On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to Country and the Coast Guard.”
U.S. Marine Corps: “On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to Country and Corps.”
U.S. Navy: “On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to this Country and a grateful Navy.”
These ceremonies are extremely emotional and often come too soon in a soldier’s life. The best thing anyone can do is be sure to use a flag made by Americans, for Americans, to honor an American soldier. You can find the highest quality flags available at AmericanFlags.com, founded in Long Island, New York just one month after 9/11.