Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
The American flag, affectionately known as “Old Glory,” was officially adopted by Congress in 1777 and has been nationally honored every year on June 14 since President Harry Truman signed an act of Congress in 1949.
Ever since, it has been known as a symbol of freedom, justice and the United States of America as one nation, but for the surviving family members of departed service members, the flag symbolizes so much more.
“(The flag) is a reminder that our freedom has come at a price,” said Megan Duncan, surviving family member. “I move about in freedom. I get to eat what I want, pick where I want to go and do what I want to do and that’s because there have been people that have been willing to sacrifice for me to be able to do that.
“That’s what the flag means. It means that somebody raised their hand and said, ‘pick me, send me, I will be the one to do that,’” she said.
Duncan is the mother of Spc. Spencer Duncan, who was killed in action on Aug. 6, 2011, when the CH-47 Chinook helicopter he was riding in was shot down. At the time, he was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During Spc. Duncan’s funeral on Aug. 18, 2011, at the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, Megan Duncan said several moments stand out, but specifically the folding and presenting of the U.S. flag.
“I have two other children, so I was worried about them; I was worried about my husband; I was wondering how on earth we were going to go on, all the time thinking about how much it means to be an American and how much it meant to my son to be able to do his job,” Duncan said. “Interesting thing, our casualty assistance officer was not happy with the way the flag was folded, and he made them redo it because he was not having it be anything less than the best that it could be.
“Then, when they were going to present the flag, I asked them to present it to my husband (Dale Duncan),” she said. “When the general knelt to hand the flag to my husband, my husband knelt down on the ground, too, because he couldn’t receive a flag from someone of that rank and be above him. He couldn’t rationalize that in his mind.”
The folding of the flag, along with the playing of taps and the 21-gun salute, is among the most significant parts of a military honors funeral.
“The U.S. flag honors the memory of a service member or veteran’s service to our country,” according to Military OneSource. “The ceremonial folding and presentation of the flag is a moving tribute of lasting importance to our service members, veterans and their families.
“The folded flag is emblematic of the tri-cornered hat worn by the patriots of the American Revolution,” the site continues.
When the flag is folded, it is folded 13 times, and, according to Will Brown, Department of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security Operations Branch supervisor, each fold has a specific meaning.
“The 13 folds symbolize the 13 colonies that formed the United States,” Brown said. “Within this context, each fold is steeped in tradition. Every part of the sequence has meaning.”
The first fold symbolizes life.
The second fold symbolizes a belief in an eternal life.
The third fold commemorates veterans who gave a portion of their lives in defense of the country and promotes peace in the world.
The fourth fold acknowledges the weaker nature of humanity and signifies trust in God for guidance in peace and war.
The fifth fold is a tribute to the United States.
The sixth fold symbolizes where citizens’ hearts lie in relation to their sense of allegiance to the country.
The seventh fold is a mark of honor, paying tribute to service members.
“It is because of the Armed Forces that this nation — and its flag — are protected from her enemies,” Brown said.
The eighth fold symbolizes that the deceased veteran has entered the valley of the shadow of death and will soon see the eternal light.
The ninth fold honors the faith, love and devotion of women and mothers.
The 10th fold honors the fathers of all service members.
The 11th fold represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The 12th fold, for Christians, represents the eternity of the Holy Trinity.
The 13th and final fold leaves the stars pointed upward in honor of the nation’s motto, “In God We Trust.”
Duncan said the flag they were presented and a shell casing from the gun salute sits in the family room in their home, but it doesn’t always stay there.
“When we have to shelter for a tornado, my husband grabs that box, and we take it in with us,” Duncan said.
As Flag Day approaches, Duncan said it’s even more important to remember the flag’s significance.
“I think, especially now,” she said, “it is important for people to remember not everything is bad and not everyone is bad.”