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The history of the 13 folds: Memorial Day speaker gives crowd a little lesson in flag etiquette

Vietnam veteran David Coalwell, who also serves as commander of the Lake Region Veterans Color Guard, was the featured speaker at Monday's Memorial Day festivities in Detroit Lakes. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)1 / 5
The Detroit Lakes Middle School Marching Band, led by Paul Dierkhising, kept the Memorial Day crowds entertained throughout Monday morning's parade festivities. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)2 / 5
With flags flying in the brisk spring air, Lake Region Veterans Color Guard members led off Monday morning's Memorial Day parade through downtown Detroit Lakes. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)3 / 5
The Detroit Lakes Fire Department was one of about a half dozen volunteer fire departments from throughout Becker County that participated in Monday's Memorial Day Parade. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)4 / 5
Despite the cool temperatures and brisk winds, Monday's Memorial Day Parade included about two dozen vintage cars, and even one motorcycle. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)5 / 5

"How many of you have seen a flag-draped coffin?"

This was the question posed by David Coalwell, Vietnam veteran and Lakes Region Color Guard commander, at the start of his Memorial Day address on Monday.

"Some of us have seen too many, while others have never seen one," he added.

But for those who have, he asked, do they know why the flag is folded 13 times when it is removed from the coffin?

"It doesn't stand for the 13 original colonies," he said, later adding a little sheepishly that this was what he had believed for most of his military career.

Rather, Coalwell added, each fold has a symbolic meaning.

"The first fold of the flag, when it's folded in half, is a symbol of life," he said.

The other folds of the flag, as read by Coalwell, represent the following:

• The second fold signifies our belief in eternal life.

• The third fold is made in honor and tribute of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace.

• The fourth fold exemplifies our weaker nature as citizens trusting in God; it is to Him we turn for His divine guidance.

• The fifth fold is an acknowledgment 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."

• The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

• The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces, for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies.

• The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother's Day.

• The ninth fold is an honor to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.

• The 10th fold is a tribute to the father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first-born.

• The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, 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.

• The 12th fold, 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.

• The last fold, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, "In God We Trust."

When he was finished, Coalwell continued his history lesson, discussing the origin of the bugle call known as 'Taps,' which is historically played by members of the United States Armed Forces, during flag ceremonies, military funerals, and at dusk.

He then talked a little about his own family's history.

"My family is a relative newcomer to this land," he said, adding that the first of his ancestors to step foot on what would be American soil came here in 1706.

That man, whose name was Ebenezer, fought in the French and Indial wars, and joined the Massachusetts Minutemen during the Revolutionary War.

"We're very proud of our military heritage," Coalwell said of his family.

To conclude his address, Coalwell thanked the crowd that filled the Pavilion after Monday morning's Memorial Day Parade, adding, "Before 9/11 happened, we wouldn't have needed all these chairs."

Monday's ceremony also included remarks by Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk and American Legion Commander Larry Krosko.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454