In a series of 13 sharp, crisp movements, an American flag was ceremonially folded by the members of American Legion Sergy Post 98 as part of the Veterans Day program held Nov. 11 at the Page County Veterans' Arch in Clarinda.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Tom Edwards, who served in the Iowa National Guard for 34 years, was the featured speaker for the program.
Edwards opened the program by reviewing the history of Armistice Day, which was named in honor of the signing of the armistice to end the fighting in World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. However, in 1954, the name of the day was changed to Veterans Day.
"November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars for their patriotism, their love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good," Edwards said.
The most poignant symbol of patriotism for citizens of the United States is the American flag. Edwards said the use of the American flag in military funerals reinforces the importance of the sacrifices made by all members of the Armed Forces past and current.
The folding of the American flag consists of 13 folds that each holds great significance.
Each night, Edwards said military bases hold the Ceremony of Retreat where all military personnel join in paying respect to the flag.
"The flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation's honored dead. The next morning it is brought out, and at the Ceremony of Reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the Body," Edwards said.
As Sergy Post 98 Commander Dave Grebert and members Mike Blume and Alan Schenck folded the American flag, Edwards reviewed the meaning of each fold. Once folded, Edwards said the flag resembles the appearance of a cocked hat like the ones worn by soldiers serving under General George Washington and Captain John Paul Jones in the Revolutionary War.
"That's something I didn't really know much about until very recently, just what it all meant. I knew it meant respect to our country. I knew it meant respect to the dead. But I didn't realize how great of an honor that it was," Edwards said.
Still, given his service in the Iowa National Guard, Edwards said Veterans Day has always held a special significance for him.
After graduating from high school in 1970, Edwards received a deferment to attended college in Clarinda and studied mechanical technology. After graduating in 1972, however, he was drafted.
"I spent the next 20-some years attending weekend drills and going to summer camps. We were called out for the Hormel meat strike, which we trained and luckily didn't have to participate in. I assisted in two Hamburg floods over the years and also, probably the key thing, was the Braddyville tornado 40 years ago. We were glad to serve our community at that time," Edwards said.
While serving as Commander of the 185th Rear Operations Center in Jefferson in February 2003, Edwards the rest of the center were mobilized to Kuwait and Iraq. Edwards said his unit was charged with keeping main supply routes open so soldiers could receive the equipment and supplied they needed during the war.
"Days just ran together. You didn't know what day it was. You just kept working. You were doing your job. None of us particularly wanted to be a hero. What we really wanted was to just do our job for our country and the people we served," Edwards said.
Edwards said his unit rotated back to the United States in February 2004. Edwards said their flight first touched down in the United States at 3 a.m. in Bangor, Maine.
Despite the unusual hour, Edwards said his unit was greeted at the airport by a large crowd of World War II veterans, their wives and veterans from various other wars.
"They got out of their beds at 3 o'clock in the morning to come down and shake our hands. By golly that makes you feel pretty special too, believe you me. It brings a tear to your eye and it does to me now when I think about it," Edwards said.
Regardless of when they served, Edwards said members of the United States military were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice, if necessary, to protect their loved ones at home. That is why it is important to remember that dedication to country every Veterans Day.