In honor of Veteran’s Day, I have been reflecting on ways of showing my pride for this country as well as respecting and showing my gratitude for those who have fought for our freedom.
At my elementary and middle school, there was a large flagpole outside where the American flag was hoisted and flown with pride each and every day. It was part of the seventh graders’ responsibilities to put up the flag at the beginning of the school day and take it down when the school day was over. I remember being a seventh grader and thinking we were all so important, handling the flag. My class was broken up into pairs, and each week throughout the school year, the pairs took turns raising and lowering the flag.
Now, there’s more to this process than many of you probably realize. We had to go through extensive training at the beginning of the school year to make sure that we all executed this responsibility properly. We, of course, learned how to care for the flag, but this was mainly a lesson on the importance of respecting the flag, as well as our country.
My classmates and I had to learn how to unfold the flag, making sure that it didn’t come close to touching the ground or anything beneath it. We had to pay attention to the most minute details of this process: how to put the snap hooks onto the flag’s grommets, which attach the flag to the ropes, or the halyard, and make sure that we did not hook it on upside down (which did happen to me maybe once or twice when I was on the job…but don’t worry, I fixed it before it got raised up the pole). We had to learn how to hoist the flag up the pole using the pulley system, and know that once you reached the halyard knot, a knot in the rope that initially starts at the top of the flagpole, the flag had made it to the top.
We also had to be aware of days when the flag must be flown at half-staff, which, according to Military.com, must occur until noon on Memorial Day and to show respect for the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, among other events. When raising the flag to half-staff, we also had to make sure that we raised the flag all the way to the top for a brief moment, before lowering it down to half-staff, and doing the same when taking it down. We then had to learn how to tie and secure the halyard correctly onto the cleat, using a figure-eight motion.
Not only were we, at only 11 or 12 years old, trusted to do all of this properly, without the flag blowing away down Main Street during the school day, but we were trusted enough to do it each and every day. Just as school let up, we did the process backwards, taking the flag down. What was even more special about this end of day process is that we got to fold it too.
Folding the flag is not like how you would fold a common bed sheet (if some of you even fold those at all). This was a whole other lesson, but probably the most interesting and meaningful part of the job, at least for me.
There is an art to folding the flag, one that takes well-practiced technique and precision. The folding of the American flag also holds a very deep meaning. If you have ever attended the funeral of a military veteran, you have probably witnessed members of the Honor Guard fold up the flag that was draped over the casket and present it to the family of the deceased veteran. This is truly something amazing to behold.
Two people are needed to fold the flag properly. Standing on either end of the flag, the one on the stars side is responsible for holding the flag straight and tight, while the one on the red and white striped side is responsible for the folding. It starts with both people folding the flag in half twice, and then working from the striped end, the well-known triangle folds begin.
The Honor Guard’s white gloved hands so perfectly form the fabric of the flag to create each of the 13 symbolic folds. When they reach the end of the flag, it is tightly tucked into the last fold.
Though it has been many years since I held the responsibility of raising the American flag for my school, the importance of this practice and the importance of respecting the flag, as well as our country, has remained with me. Respecting our country, and the people within it, is a major theme that we should all keep in mind as we prepare to welcome the next president of our country into the White House, after what is probably one of the most historic elections of our time. As we observe this Veteran’s Day, let’s remember and be thankful for all of the veterans who have served our country, and who have given us the ability to live free.
For the complete United States Flag Code, visit this link: https://www.military.com/flag-day/us-flag-code.html
For a list of the meanings for each of the 13 folds of the flag, visit this link: https://www.military.com/flag-day/meaning-behind-13-flag-folds.html