Snopes.com is my newest best friend. Snopes helps sort out truth from fiction. Why my best friend? Because as author Adam Osborne said, “People think computers will keep them from making mistakes. They're wrong. With computers you make mistakes faster.”
Just as quickly as mistakes are made, readers respond by letting me know. In response to the July 4 column about the American flag, Deborah Gillson, Edward King and Cheryl Tobin were respectful and kind, but the message was clear, “You have fallen for an urban myth.”
I thanked them. I apologized. I did my homework. As to the folding of the flag, Snopes says neither Congress nor federal laws related to the flag assigns any special meaning to the 13 individual folds.
However, there is no shortage of scripts with specific meanings that have been devised for special occasions such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day or a retirement ceremony.
Upon request, these scripts can be read aloud during a flag folding. I found five scripts at www.USHistory.org. — one of which is the script, religious in nature, that was printed in the July 4 column and was likely penned by an anonymous chaplain at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
These associations are “real” in the sense they mean something to the people who participate in the ceremony, but they are not the reason why a flag is folded in the traditional, 13-step manner.
As to the 21-gun salute, it is often confused with the symbolic act of firing three volleys at military funerals, but these are two completely different rituals, according to Snopes and the Department of the Navy.
From the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C. comes the following explanation:
The 21-gun salute, as the name states, is a salute and is fired in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the president, ex-president and president-elect of the United States as well as on the day of the funeral of any of those three.
It is also fired on Washington's Birthday, Presidents Day and the Fourth of July. On Memorial Day, a salute of 21 guns at one-minute intervals is fired at noon while the flag is flown at half staff.
The firing of three rifle volleys at a military funeral is technically not a salute but rather a funereal custom. The rifle party includes seven members, each of whom fires his rifle a total of three times, and is not the same as a 21-gun salute fired by a single weapon.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.