The Bugler

Bugler Newsletter

Debunking Military Myths

Some of these myths have been around for years; some are still going round.

The folds of the American flag do not have significance.
Spiritual or religious meanings have been given to each of the folds, so they take on a life of their own, but they are wrong. Public Law 94-344, known as the Federal Flag Code, is the law of the land regarding the handling and displaying of the American flag. It does not include anything regarding the significance or meaning of folding the flag. The code was first adopted by Congress in 1923 and revised numerous times.

Traditional flag etiquette prescribes the following: Before an American flag is stored or presented, its handlers should twice fold it in half lengthwise; then, from the opposite end of the blue field, make a triangular fold and continue to fold it in triangles until the other end is reached. As most of our readers know, the folded flag takes the shape of a triangular pillow with only the blue canton field showing on the outside. It takes 13 folds to create this effect: two lengthwise folds and eleven triangular ones. That's where the misinformation comes in. The 13 folds have nothing to do with the 13 original states, or the final shape of a cocked hat, or because each of the folds is endowed with special meaning. Folding the flag in this way simply provides a dignified ceremonial touch that distinguishes folding a U.S. flag from an ordinary object - for example, a bed sheet - and results in a pleasing, easy-to-handle shape. The 13 folds are coincidental. Here are instructions for how to correctly fold a flag:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs issued a statement on October 20, 2007 saying that any recitations at the graveside of a veteran can reflect the wishes of the family. In other words, if the family wants the meaning of the folds to be included, it can be.

The old dog tag notch was not put between a dead soldier's teeth.
There are many explanations for the notch on the World War II and Korean Conflict dog tags - that "V" cut out on the short side of the tag across from the hole. Battlefield rumor held that the notched end of the tag was placed between the front teeth of battlefield casualties to hold the jaws in place. That may have happened, but there are no official instructions for such use. The only purpose of the notch was to hold the blank tag in alignment on the embossing machine. The tag was placed face down and then stamped onto a piece of paper via carbon ribbon in order to transfer the soldier's information. The one used currently does not require a notch and, thus, the modern military dog tags are smooth on all sides.

A flag that covered a casket can be used for other purposes.
A flag that has been used to cover a casket can also be displayed for any proper purpose, as well as from a staff or flagpole.

The truck of a military flagpole does not contain a razor, a match, and a bullet.
The gold ball atop a military flagpole is called a truck. The myth of the razor, match and bullet in a flagpole truck relates to one being the last on a military base in case of a takeover. The razor is to cut the stripes apart on the flag. The match is to burn the flag remains. The bullet is to use on oneself in the pistol that is supposedly buried a certain number of paces in a specific direction from the flagpole. Or, maybe you've heard it's a match, a pencil and a .45 caliber round. It's still nonsensical - for a whole host of reasons! The concept is nothing more than a fairy tale to instill values and dedication.

The music of "Taps" was not found in a dead soldier's pocket by his father.
The story of the origin of the haunting melody we know as "Taps" is just that - a story. It is a beautiful legend but nothing more. The only place where the two stories come together is that "Taps" was first heard at Harrison's Landing in Virginia in 1862 during the Civil War.

"Taps" may be attributed to Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield, Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, who decided his unit could use a new bugle call for particular occasions. He had been dissatisfied with the customary firing of three rifle volleys at the conclusion of burial ceremonies during battle. He also needed a way to give more meaning to the end of a soldier's day. It is possible, so this version goes, that he altered an older piece, known as "Tattoo," a French bugle call used to signal 'lights out.' With the help of his bugler, Oliver W. Norton of Chicago, the name "Tattoo" became "Taps" in its present form. Within months, buglers in both the Union and Confederate forces were playing it. Then, as now, it is an important element in military funeral ceremonies. Regrettably, the facts are not as dramatic or as moving as the legend.

Bugle Calls

If you've been looking for a recording of "Taps," our CD of "America's Bugle Calls" has both a single bugler and a two-bugler version. They also have 64 other important and useful bugle calls.

The eagle does not turn
Fueled by the popular television political drama, "The West Wing," and the political thriller Deception Point, some people think that the Seal of the President of the United States changes during wartime. The regular seal has the eagle's head facing the talon holding an olive branch, the symbol of peace. The "wartime" seal is reputed to have the eagle's head turned to face the talon clutching a group of arrows.

Although the Seal of the President of the United States has undergone some changes over the years, its design is fixed by executive order and is not altered during wartime. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order that changed the design so that the eagle's head faced the talon holding the arrows. The last major change in the seal was made by President Harry S Truman in 1945. Among the changes was the reversal of the eagle's head so that it once more faced in the same direction as the one on the Great Seal of the United States. According to biographer David McCullough, "Truman meant the shift in the eagle's gaze to be seen as symbolic of a nation both on the march and dedicated to peace."

The notion of a presidential seal that featured as its centerpiece an eagle whose gaze changed direction based upon the state of world conflict was the subject of a wry comment made by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as he was visiting with President Truman in 1946. Pointing to the President's seal on the wall of a train car, Truman explained that he had the eagle's head turned to face the olive branch. Churchill said he thought the eagle's head should be on a swivel!

Course was diverted
It was claimed that in 1995 an odd conversation took place between a lighthouse and an aircraft carrier off the coast of Newfoundland. It was allegedly recorded by the chief of naval operations and the transcript was leaked out to the general public.

Americans: "Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision."

Canadians: "Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision."

Americans: "This is the captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course."

Canadians: "No, I say again, you divert YOUR course."


Canadians: "This is a lighthouse. Your call."

The story of the pompous captain getting his well-earned comeuppance at the hands of a plain-speaking lighthouse is an old one. The U.S. Navy followed it up with a newspaper article in 1996:
           "The source of that story, which the Navy swears in untrue, is not known. It's a joke that has been floating around for at least 10 years, and maybe 30 to 40 years. Some think it originated in a humor column in Reader's Digest. Nobody knows for sure.
            But … the story of the ship and the lighthouse has been passed along, as gospel, by comedy talk-show hosts, lazy newspaper columnists and clueless cyberspace jockeys until it has taken on an air of the apocryphal. It clings to Navy lore like that old captain from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." And, like Coleridge's haunted captain, the Navy is having a real tough time getting this albatross off its neck."

The ship is identified as the carrier Abraham Lincoln, or Enterprise, or Missouri, and that was the first clue to its being bogus. There is no such carrier; the Missouri is a retired battleship. The story has wings! The reported incident happened in Puget Sound, off the Carolinas, and off the coast of Newfoundland. Moreover, it happened in 1995, or the story's been told for 50 years. No matter where or when – it didn't happen! But it made a good story, didn't it?!

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