“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.” “God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America.”
And with those words, the young Naval officer solemnly placed the folded casket flag into my arms. My heart broke with the emotion of the moment as I clutched the flag to my heart and the tears poured down my face – he slowly saluted, nodded to me and he and the other honor guard solemnly and slowly exited the tent erected over the gravesite of my father. This was July 5th, 2011 – the day after Independence Day when my Dad was laid to rest in the same cemetery next to my Mom who was buried there 13 years earlier.
Selective blindness… sometimes we can look right at a thing for so long it doesn’t register on our consciousness. For years I’ve seen the familiar tricorner shape of american flags in their ceremonial display boxes, the deep blue of the flag contrasting with the crisp white stars. I’ve seen them here and there all my life, in offices, on shelves, in display cabinets and in the office backgrounds of various people being interviewed on television. Long ago, I remember thinking something trite like ‘how cool is that’ or idly wondering how someone came to possess such a thing. I’ve also heard of ceremonial flags given or awarded as keepsakes after they are flown briefly above a state or national capitol building. Beyond a cursory glance I never gave the provenance of these folded flags much thought. Until I received this tricornered flag which now enjoys a special place of honor in my home.
Today, I recognize that the flag that Im seeing most often is the ceremonial flag, due to the small triangle. The ceremonial flag measures 3’x5′. A military casket flag by comparison measures 9.5’x5′ and when it is folded properly, lengthwise and then folded again, it can be folded in the triangle pattern exactly 13 times. Typically it is taken from the casket of a fallen soldier and folded by an honor guard at the gravesite and then presented to the next of kin with all the gravity and solemnity of that ceremony – Once folded in this way, it is never to be unfolded again.
It is a wonderful, majestic thing to see the honor, love and care that goes into the military homegoing ceremony and the experience is indelibly etched into my memory.
I am seriously proud of my Dad, that he served with honor in the Navy. And on this annual day of remembrance – this Memorial Day, I also am proud and honored to be a part of a much larger, extended family. This particular family is special and different, being comprised of those that are known to me and also thousands and thousands of people – faces that I do not know and probably never will. I love them all anyway and I celebrate and honor them today as well. We are bound together by this memento of our shared history – that our kin are now laid to rest in honor and we have this folded flag as a symbol of their service and also to mark their passing from this life.
For all who have served, who are currently in service or have laid down their lives in defense of our country – we love and remember you this day.
Rest well, Pops. I love you.