Flag respect on display for Ford funeral; same for Bush

December 5, 2018

Actions convey messages. Actions communicate. How one acts in regarding the U.S. flag, at different times when action is required, tells something about character — whether one was even paying attention when respect for the flag, and the ideals it portrays, was explained.

President Ford's casket in the Capitol Rotunda - photo by Todd Heisler, NY Times

President Ford’s casket lies in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. New York Times photo by Todd Heisler.

Back in early 2007 I discussed some of the flag etiquette we saw at the funeral of President Gerald R. Ford. We see these things again at the funeral of President George H. W. Bush. Let’s repeat the observations.

Here are a few things you may have observed during the services for President Ford, which you may observe again at the funeral of George H. W. Bush, with minor edits:

1. On his coffin, the U.S. flag’s union will always be over President Bush’s left shoulder. This is a reversal from the usual display method for the flag; in display on a wall, the field should always be in the upper left as one observes it, the “northwest” corner (as if looking at a map); on a coffin, that would put the flag over the person’s right shoulder. Instead, on a coffin the flag is draped so the union is over the left shoulder, usually explained as being over the soldier’s heart. Also, note that a flag-draped casket should be carried foot first to the grave.

2. Since Bush is a military veteran, the flag should accompany the casket to the grave, but not into it (I believe this applies also to presidents if they did not serve, but in any case it applies to Bush). The flag will be folded in the traditional seafaring triangle fold, and presented to the Bush family before the casket is lowered into the grave.

3. When the flag is folded at the cemetery, watch how carefully the military people will work to get each fold just right. Their goal is a perfect fold, which will leave only the blue field of stars from the union showing, in a triangular fold. To get it right, the color guard (pall bearers, I presume in this case) will take its time. Occasionally the flag team will halt and unfold the flag, and refold, if the process is not proceeding just exactly right. But that is rare; the flag folding team sacrifices speed, for care. If the ceremony proceeds very quickly, I would be surprised.

4. It is unlikely that there will be any ceremonial reading during the folding of the flag. Any reading given, however, would be selected by the family. In the past couple of decades, presidential funerals have been planned out well in advance of the event. Differences between Bush’s funeral in 2018, Ford’s funeral in 2007 and Reagan’s funeral in 2004, are due to the different plans of the families, not due to any formal procedure required by U.S. law or tradition. We’re a democratic nation, and such ceremonies are not sacred writ. (I have written here before about the mistaken idea that there is an “official” flag folding ceremony with specific meaning given to each of the 13 foldings of the flag; there is no official ceremony. There is no official meaning ascribed to the folding of the flag; the triangular fold is a convenience at sea, where flags folded into the triangle will unfurl without fouling or snagging as they rise up the mast. We continue that tradition on land.)

In general, the flag will be treated respectfully. Do not expect to see a lot of flag waving during the service. When the flag is present, it will be treated soberly, with care, with special attention to getting official ceremonial details correct.

Students, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts should pay attention.

  • Associated Press photo by Lawrence Jackson. Telephoto showing some of the 50 flags surrounding the Washington Monument flying at half-mast in honor of the late President Gerald Ford, with the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the background. The Capitol is more than a mile away from the Washington Monument; compression of the images by the telephoto lens makes the dome appear much closer.
Flags fly at half staff in honor of former President Gerald Ford at the Washington Monument, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, on Dec. 27, 2006. Ford will lie in state in the Capitol before burial in Grand Rapids, Mich. Credit: AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson

Flags fly at half staff in honor of former President Gerald Ford at the Washington Monument, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, on Dec. 27, 2006. Ford will lie in state in the Capitol before burial in Grand Rapids, Mich. Credit: AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson

Minor update: The Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Press has an informative article about flag etiquette in this situation, here.

See also:

2018 update: President George H. W. Bush’s casket lies in state, in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, on the catafalk originally constructed to hold the casket of President Abraham Lincoln.

 Members of the public view the casket containing former President George H.W. Bush's remains as he lies in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Monday night. Cameron Pollack/NPR

“Members of the public view the casket containing former President George H.W. Bush’s remains as he lies in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Monday night. Cameron Pollack/NPR.” Compare with the photo of President Ford’s casket, in the photo at the top of this post.

Happy birthday, Gerald Ford, July 14, 1913

July 14, 2016

Today is the 103rd anniversary of President Gerald Ford‘s birth.

Happy birthday, Mr. President!

Gerald Ford, as an officer in the US Navy in 1945. Wikipedia image in the public domain.

Gerald Ford, as an officer in the US Navy in 1945. Ford left the Navy in 1946, and ran for Congress in 1948. Wikipedia image in the public domain.


Fly your flag today, July 4, 2015

July 4, 2015

Follow the example of the young Gerald Ford.

1929: #President Gerald R Ford Jr holding flag with Eagle Scout Guard of Honor Mackinac Island State Park #Michigan. Tweet from America's Gallery

1929: #President Gerald R. Ford, Jr. holding flag with Eagle Scout Guard of Honor, Mackinac Island State Park, #Michigan. Tweet from America’s Gallery

Flags up in the morning, down at sunset.

Have a good, safe and joyful Fourth of July.

Before the fight: Ford and Reagan, October 31, 1974

December 5, 2012

Historian Michael Beschloss Tweeted out a wonderful photo:

President Gerald Ford, former-Gov. Ronald Reagan, October 31, 1974, Century Plaza

October 31, 1974: President Gerald Ford, right, met with former-California Gov. Ronald Reagan, at the Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Micheal Beschloss.

Who took the photo?  What was the event?  Beschloss asks on Twitter, why two drinks on Ford’s side of the table, and none on Reagan’s?

Looks like it’s a photo by David Hume Kennerly, the White House photographer in the Ford administration.  The photograph was taken with film, probably in black and white to save money and because it was the best way to get images for print media at the time.  Few newspapers ran color photos as a regular feature.  Electronic still photography at the time occurred in laboratories as tests.  As a pragmatic matter, media to store such photographs electronically were impractical — a large mainframe computer might have 256 kilobytes of memory for such storage, or enough for photo of poor resolution.

Kennerly’s site said this meeting came around a black-tie Republican fund-raiser in Los Angeles, at the then-swanky Century Plaza Hotel.

Vanity Fair’s David Friend called it “L.A. Noir” in a 2007 article on a book of photos by Kennerly:

Today, the image conveys a touch of Rat Pack swagger, an architectural elegance, and a hint of the California glamour that Reagan would eventually import to Washington. At the time, however, Kennerly, who had won a Pulitzer for his work in Vietnam, considered the picture too dark and brooding; he almost overlooked the frame on his contact sheet. But that darkness captured something of the spirit of the time: less than three months before, Watergate had forced Richard Nixon from office; inflation, unemployment, and gas prices were on the rise; and the U.S. was facing defeat in Vietnam.

The picture also caught the sometimes frosty relationship between the two leaders. Both Reagan and Ford, after all, would nix the 1980 “dream ticket” idea, floated by some Republican mandarins, to draft Ford as Reagan’s vice president. And Ford, during his unsuccessful 1976 campaign against Jimmy Carter, resented Reagan’s political infighting. “Truthfully,” Ford confessed to Kennerly years later, “I was upset when he challenged me [for the ’76 Republican nomination]. I thought it was unwise for a Republican to challenge a sitting Republican president. We had a pretty bitter contest. It was a head-to-head, knock-down, drag-out affair.”

“I study this picture now,” says Kennerly, “and it looks like a scene from The Godfather”—which had won the best-picture Oscar the year before.

Were I to guess, with a bit of education, I’d say both glasses belonged to Ford, one a cocktail, one water.  Reagan tended to avoid alcohol.

A great photograph, a tribute to the artistry and craftsmanship of Kennerly, especially with film; it also poses as a time capsule, freezing convention in GOP big-money fundraising, dress for men of influence and means, architecture, and so much more.

David Kennerly

Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer, and White House photographer, David Hume Kennerly; TEDxBend image


Not before the deluge, not after it, but during the storm.  Nixon was three-months gone from the White House.  Vietnam’s peace agreement was a year-old, but it was seven months to the final invasion of South Vietnam by the communist North that would force the U.S. retreat, and “reunify” Vietnam under communist rule.  The Cold War still raged.  Iran was considered a U.S. puppet.  Mao Zedong still ruled in China.  Elvis Presley still ruled in Memphis.  AIDS was unknown.  Computers were accounting machines taking floors of entire buildings.  Portable telephones were expensive devices that hogged power and generally required at least an automobile to be attached to power the thing.

Barack Obama was 13.

It was a different time.



Gerald Ford, National Park Ranger

January 1, 2007

Gerald Ford was a very likable guy.  Since his death last week, I have been impressed with the number of people who have stepped forward with different stories about how Ford was just a regular guy called to duty.

Researching the updating of the story about the sale of creationist books in the Grand Canyon, I stumbled into a press release from the National Park Service.  It turns out that Ford is the only president ever to have worked as a National Park Ranger (well, the National Park Service itself has only been around since 1901, so that lets out about half the presidents from even the possibility — though, of course, Yellowstone was established in 1862 1872).

In the summer of 1936 Ford worked in Yellowstone National Park.  He had duties that sound rather quaint and definitely antiquated today:  Ford was a guard on the bear feeding truck.  Bears have to fend for themselves in today’s National Parks.  No, it’s not due to budget cuts in bear food.  Bears do better as wild creatures, and so feeding was stopped to discourage them from becoming tame and dependent on humans.

Gerald Ford, ranger mensch.

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