Illinois National Guard


 
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    Use of Flags
     
   


The draping of the flag over the remains of the military dead can be traced back to Napoleon and his army. They would drape their dead with the colors of his empire. He believed it would help instill pride and duty in his soldiers and give them a reminder of their purpose. They would see their comrades honored this way in death. It gave them comfort knowing that in death they would be honored and remembered. The first record of the U.S. military doing this was during the Mexican War. The account is not clear on whether it was the unit colors that draped the coffin or the National Colors. During the Civil War the bodies of the dead were often removed using the caissons and bodies were covered in flags. These flags were also being draped over caskets when caskets were available and used. These flags were later placed back in stock with the Quartermaster. Covering the bodies was an act of respect and using the colors only emphasized the respect of those bearing the bodies. The flags were used again during the Spanish-American War. The flags were not kept on the caskets during transportation home. The bodies were shipped home as cargo and left in the hands of the crews on the ships. LT George W. Cocheu had been a witness to these methods of caring for the dead. He felt that the dead were not being properly honored and it bothered him enough to bring up a suggestion to the Chief of Staff. He suggested that the caskets should remained draped with the flag and the colors should be given to the next of kin as a token of the country's appreciation. He made a further request that a Soldier of the same rank or greater should accompany the soldiers home. Army Chief of Staff, Peyton C. March, approved this plan in 1918 and issued this order to the Army. Then on, families would begin to receive the flags that covered the remains of their loved ones. No official account on how the flag fold came about is recorded. It came from the Quartermasters and is believed to have been the best way to fold and store the flags. The details of the fold have been changed and touched up over the years. Many urban legends have surfaced on the meanings and reasons for the folds. There is no documentation supporting any of these. This, however, does not negate the final product and story that has come from these stories passed down over time. The importance of the meaning and the patriotism they inspire are very real and important to the tradition.