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The Highest Honor

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To lay a fellow service member to rest is the most solemn duty that a veteran or active duty member can experience. Members of the United States military act with selfless service, pride, and respect to the point that it is in our DNA. This is part of what makes a servicemember’s final sendoff so emotionally impactful. We are all in it together.

At the request of the family of a deceased Airman and a close friend, I was asked to be in charge of the flag presentation at his funeral. I was honored by the opportunity and I wanted to make everything perfect. There are certain things that have to be done absolutely correctly, and mistakes are not options.

The flag presentation comes after the playing of “Taps” and it is the last part of a funeral with military honors. The detail silently approaches the sealed casket at this point and removes the retaining band that holds the flag to the casket. Then they hold the flag straight out horizontally and begin folding it. The stripes are folded towards the stars in thirteen folds to symbolize the thirteen original American colonies. The final product is a triangular shaped symbol of the Tricorn hats worn during the American Colonial period, with only a field of blue and white stars remaining. The junior member of the detail then hands the folded flag to the senior member and then it is presented to the closest relative. It may sound easy, but it is not.

The script that is required of the senior member of the detail is only 40 words, one sentence; “On behalf of The President of the United States, The United States Air Force, and on behalf of a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our gratitude for your loved one’s faithful and honorable service.”

It’s just a script until you have to look into the eyes of a grieving widow’s face, wrecked with sorrow and grief, with tears streaming down her face and actually get the words out your mouth. It doesn’t get any more dramatic than this. The weight of the moment at this point is palpable. It took every ounce of my military bearing to do this duty. But I did it, and it was my highest honor. Fly high, Earl!

Alan Shoalmire is a resident in Grimes County and the owner of Grill Sergeant and submits a column to the Navasota Examiner every other week.