I went to a funeral service last week for Larry, the father-in-law of a good friend. It was a pretty typical funeral service with one exception: the folding and presentation of the US flag.
Larry was a World War II veteran. I’ve been to a couple of funeral services for WWII veterans, but this is the first time I have witnessed this presentation in person.
Because of the heat, the family chose to have the commitment, usually done at the graveside, inside the church as the closing of the service. After the last prayer, the ministers remained silent as a naval officer in dress whites walked down the center aisle and stood at the head of the casket, where the flag’s canton of blue containing the stars lay. He saluted.
Then came a sailor, also in dress whites, down the center aisle. He took his place at the foot of the casket, at the end of the red and white stripes. He saluted. It was totally silent in the church.
They grasped the ends of the flag that covered Larry’s casket and stepped to the front side of the casket. They folded the flag once; then again. Then with purpose and care, the sailor began folding the flag in a triangular pattern, moving toward the officer.
As he got close to the field of blue and stars, he stopped, clearly unhappy with the work he had done. He unfolded the flag twice. He gently but precisely worked the fabric to get the stars aligned in the proper way. Then he refolded the triangles. The officer tucked in the end of the flag, just so. The sailor then held the folded flag for the officer’s final inspection, at which point the officer saluted. He then took the flag from the sailor, who saluted, turned to face the congregation and quietly strode back down the center aisle.
The officer took the folded flag and walked over to Larry’s widow and family. He removed his hat, leaned over to present her with the flag, and spoke a message to her on behalf of the President. He put his hat back on, faced the congregation, saluted and then made his way back down the center aisle.
To be a witness to such a tribute was deeply moving. We are a more informal society these days; in some situations, this has been a good thing. But it was inspiring to see this formal act of respect and remembrance. I appreciate that the sailor cared enough to redo the folds, to do it “right”, because “doing it right” matters.
Do you observe any rituals? If so, hold them dear. Take the time and make the effort to continue. Make sure the children, the grandchildren, the in-laws are a part of it, even if they whine and complain. If you don’t have one, start one. Our rituals are part of what knits us together as a family, a membership, a nation.
And to the two naval representatives who gave of themselves in service to our country and to Larry and his family that day, thank you.