The Department of Veterans Affairs has clarified its stand on recitations during military funeral flag-folding ceremonies after a memo halting the practice caused a nationwide uproar among veterans.
“Honoring the burial wishes of veterans is one of the highest commitments for the men and women of VA,” said William F. Tuerk, the VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, in a statement released late Tuesday. “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.”
A VA official had pulled the recitation of "The Meaning of Each Fold of an Honor Guard Funeral Flag" from burial ceremonies at national cemeteries last month after a complaint was filed with the White House over the recitation accompanying the 11th fold that mentions "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
Under the VA's clarification, volunteer honor guards "are authorized to read the so-called '13-fold' flag recitation or any comparable script" though "survivors of the deceased need to provide material and request it be read."
Honor guards will also have to accept requests for recitations that reflect "any or no religious traditions, on an equal basis."
A Sept. 27 memo from Steve L. Muro, the director of the National Cemetery Administration's field programs office, had halted the readings.
"The National Cemetery Administration must not give meaning, or appear to give meaning to the folds of the flag by endorsing or distributing any handouts on "The Meaning of Each Fold of an Honor Guard Funeral Flag,'" he wrote in the memo.
The ruling angered veterans groups nationwide.
"To me, it's a slap in the face for every veteran, every member of the Memorial Honor Detail and every family of the deceased veteran," said Rees Lloyd, a member of the American Legion's Memorial Honor Detail for services at Riverside National Cemetery in California.
Lloyd had vowed to follow the wishes of deceased families over VA edicts when his group worked funerals at Riverside National Cemetery next Tuesday.
"We are going to abide by the wishes of the families," Lloyd said. "Not some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C. Period."
Politicians had also stepped into the fray. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., wrote a letter co-signed by 11 other congressman calling for the return of the recitation to the full military funeral.
"The flag folding recitation is a longstanding tradition which brings comfort to the living and honor to the deceased," he wrote.
Members of the American Legion had also flooded national headquarters since the decision, according to Ramona Joyce, an organization spokeswoman.
"It's respectful and it's something the family should be able to choose to have done if they so wish for their veteran," Joyce said.