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Honoring Our Heroes

Flag folding
Honoring Our Heroes

CHARLESTON, SC -- Esprit De Corps, or a feeling of pride and fellowship shared among a common group, is not a phrase in most organizations outside of the military.

CHARLESTON, SC -- Esprit De Corps, or a feeling of pride and fellowship shared among a common group, is not a phrase in most organizations outside of the military. One Ralph H. Johnson VA police officer aims to change this by teaching nurses the meaning and importance of the flag folding tradition used in many U.S. military ceremonies.

Brian Van Doimen, a Ralph H. Johnson Veteran Affairs Healthcare System police officer, recently hosted a flag-folding familiarization class for nursing professionals who provide care to Veterans daily at the hospital. The goal of the class was to allow the nurses to have insight into the culture of the patients they spend so much time with and, with that, increase the quality of care given.

"First, when I think of the promise made by our nation's 16th President, President Abraham Lincoln: 'To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan' by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's Veterans," said Van Doimen.

 "No organization can succeed without values to match its mission,” he continued. “After reflecting on this statement, it re-emphasized to me the importance of serving the United States Veterans with the highest levels of care, professionalism, and honor as service providers. From this point of view, I became extremely enthusiastic about the opportunity to teach this class, hoping to either generate a new or re-engage an existing overall professional, consistent, and honorable desire amongst our VA Service Providers as they render courteous daily service to our Veterans."

Doimen's idea of teaching this class found support from lead nurses who saw the opportunity for their fellow nurses to integrate themselves into the VA's culture of providing the best care to those who served.

"As front-line staff, nurses are in a unique position to make a difference in the lives of these men and women by developing trusting relationships that foster open communication," said Jane Wilkins, a Ralph H. Johnson Healthcare System nurse. "Understanding the Veteran's past is necessary to aid in caring for the Veteran's future. Communication is the key to empathy and positive outcomes."

The U.S. Flag has a long history of symbolism for the U.S. It's been a symbol of freedom, courage, exploration, and even sorrow. Nothing shows this more than the flag-folding ceremony used by the U.S. military during special ceremonies. Each fold represents a different concept or idea.

"After attending this class and gaining information about the history of the U.S. Flag, understanding the honor and sacrifice rendered by the U.S. Veteran, and lastly, gaining the knowledge of the purpose and significance of the honor walk procession and the flag folding process, the nurses and any other service care providers in attendance will be able to either generate or re-emphasize an overwhelming positive professional desire to provide honorable, consistent and courteous care to all Veterans they are treating."

The current version of the flag folding ceremony has been used since 1960. Below is what each fold of the flag represents:

  • The first fold symbolizes life.
  • The second fold represents a belief in eternal life.
  • The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veterans who gave their lives in defense of the country to help attain peace worldwide.
  • The fourth fold recognizes the nature of the country's citizens to trust in God.
  • The fifth fold is a tribute to the United States. According to Stephen Decatur, S. Naval Commander during the American Revolution and War of 1812, "Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong."
  • The sixth fold symbolizes where people's hearts lie in keeping with the words of our pledge of 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.
  • The seventh fold pays tribute to the armed forces. After all, the United States is protected against all enemies through our armed forces.
  • The eighth fold is a tribute to those who died and, as Psalm 23 states, "entered into the valley of the shadow of death."
  • The ninth fold honors womanhood.
  • The 10th fold is a tribute to fathers.
  • The 11th fold represents the lower portion of King David and Solomon's seal. It glorifies, in Judaism, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • The 12th fold represents an emblem of eternity. In the eyes of Christians, it glorifies God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.
  • The 13th and last fold reminds us that when the flag is completely folded, the uppermost corned signify our national motto, "In God We Trust."

The VA, as an organization, has supported the use of this ceremony for fallen Veterans as well. The current Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs has clarified the department's policy about recitations made to ensure burial services at the 143 national cemeteries operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs reflect the wishes of Veterans and their families. At the same time, the U.S. flag is folded at the grave site of a Veteran. In another publication, William F. Tuerk, the VA Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs, commented on the ceremony and its use at VA cemeteries.

"Honoring the burial wishes of Veterans is one of the highest commitments for the men and women of VA," said Tuerk. "A family may request the recitation of words to accompany the meaningful presentation of the American flag as we honor the dedication and sacrifice of their loved ones."

The nurses said they found each of these concepts impactful. This class, which will become a recurring course for all new nurses coming into the Ralph H. Johnson Veteran Affairs Healthcare System, helped them understand the Veterans they support every day and the culture of honor and compassion the Charleston VA has instilled in so many of its front-line workers.

"This class ignites the nurse's feeling of pride, unity, and togetherness," said Wilkins. "My biggest takeaway from this class is I want the nurses to never forget that feeling and extend it to the bedside. We are a team, and there is only one goal: to ultimately respect every Veteran who fought under that flag that we respect so much." 


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