Through thousands of military burials, Memorial Honor Detail volunteers at Riverside National Cemetery have folded the American flag 13 times and recited the significance of every fold to survivors of those being laid to rest.
The first fold, a narrator tells relatives, represents life, the second a belief in eternal life.
The 11th fold celebrates Jewish war veterans and "glorifies the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob."
A single complaint lodged against the words for the 11th fold recently prompted the National Cemetery Administration to ban the entire recital at all 125 national cemeteries.
A spokesman in Washington said the complaint originated from someone who witnessed the ceremony at Riverside National but would provide no other details and declined to release the directive banning the flag-folding recital, saying it was "an internal working document not meant for public distribution."
"That the actions of one disgruntled, whining, narcissistic and intolerant individual is preventing veterans from getting the honors they deserve is truly an outrage," said Rees Lloyd, 59, a Vietnam-era veteran and Memorial Honor Detail volunteer. "This is another attempt by secularist fanatics to cleanse any reference to God."
World War II Navy sailor Bobby Castillo, 85, another member of Memorial Honor Detail 12, called the federal decision "a slap in the face to every veteran."
"When we got back from the war, we didn't ask for a whole lot," said Castillo, who was wounded in 1944 as he supported the Allied landings in France. "We just want to give our veterans the respect they deserve. No one has ever complained to us about it. I just don't understand."
The pair, part of a team that has performed military honors at more than 1,400 services, said they were preparing to read the flag-folding remarks when workers in a staff car came up to them and stopped them.
Charlie Waters, parliamentarian for the American Legion of California, said he's advising memorial honor details to ignore the edict, even if it means being kicked out of cemeteries.
"This is nuts," Waters, a Korean War veteran, said in a telephone interview from Fresno. "There are 26 million veterans in this country and they're not going to take us all to prison."
Mike Nacincik, the spokesman for the National Cemetery Administration, said the new policy, which was outlined in a Sept. 27 memo, is aimed at creating uniform services throughout the military graveyard system.
Nacincik said that while the flag-folding narrative includes references to God that the government does not endorse, the main reason for the new rules is uniformity.
"We are looking at consistency," Nacincik said. "We think that's important."
As for comments that the edict is an attack on religious beliefs, Nacincik said, "People are going to have their own views on that."
He said the flag-folding narrative can be read but only if families make arrangements on their own and do not use cemetery workers, which include volunteers.
These meanings, not part of the U.S. Flag Code, have been ascribed to the 13 folds of American flags at veterans burial services:
1. Symbol of life.
2. Symbol of our belief in the eternal life.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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."
6. Represents 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.
7. A tribute to our armed forces.
8. 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.
9. A tribute to womanhood.
10. A tribute to father.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, "In God We Trust."
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