“Welcome home!” 

Every soldier longs to hear those words, but they have special meaning for Vietnam veterans. We didn’t receive the welcome and recognition most veterans enjoy, because we served our country at a time when military service wasn’t fashionable. For the first time in American history, those who actually went to Vietnam and those of us who served stateside were ordered to fight, but forbidden to win, thanks to a treasonous media, unwilling students, and vacillating civilian leadership.  

But the sacrifices of those who fought and died in Vietnam were not in vain. We held back the Communist advance for a decade, and with our blood, we bought the Free World precious time. I believe there is a direct link between the stand we took in Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. 

On Sunday, May 19, I had the honor of serving as Master of Ceremonies for a Vietnam Veterans of America ceremony at Greater Mallards Chapel AME Church Cemetery near Autaugaville, Ala., welcoming a soldier home. 

Private First Class Edward Lewis Chappell was born in 1948 and raised in Autauga County, graduating from the Autauga County Training School. He served with distinction in the U.S. Army and was killed in action on March 17, 1969, when the vehicle he was operating hit a land mine at Quang Ngai, South Vietnam. Chappell was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for heroically distinguishing himself in combat, also earning the Purple Heart Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, Expert, Sharpshooter, and Marksman badges, and the Good Conduct Medal. 

However, his remains lay in an unmarked grave for 55 years because the Veterans Administration could not find paperwork establishing his place of burial. 

Finally, the Old Autauga Historical Society and Autauga County Training School alumni raised funds to purchase an upright military grave marker, which was installed at his grave and unveiled during our Sunday ceremony. 

Chapter 607 Vietnam Veterans of America then conducted the Battle Cross Ceremony, followed by the Folds of Honor Ceremony telling the significance of each of the 13 folds

The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.

The second fold is a symbol of our belief in eternal life.

The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.

The fourth fold represents our weaker nature; as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace, as well as in time of war for His divine guidance.

The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, ‘Our Country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.’

The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces, for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies, whether they are found within or without the boundaries of our republic.

The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day….

The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood. It has been through their faith, their love, loyalty and devotion that has molded the character of the men and women who have made this country great.

The 10th fold is a tribute to the father, who has also given his sons and daughters for defense of our country since he or she was first born.

The 11th fold represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The 12th fold represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.

The 13th and last fold, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding us of our national motto, ‘In God We Trust.’

“After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat,” Military.com tells us, “ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under Gen. George Washington and the sailors and marines who served under Capt. John Paul Jones and were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the U.S. Armed Forces, preserving for us the rights, privileges and freedoms we enjoy today." 

Then came the Missing Man Table Ceremony with an explanation of the items on the table: 

The table is round – to show our everlasting concern. 

The cloth is white – symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to serve.

The single red rose reminds us of the lives of these Americans and their loved ones and friends who keep the faith, while seeking answers.

The yellow ribbon symbolizes our continued uncertainty, hope for their return and determination to account for them.

A slice of lemon reminds us of their bitter fate, captured or missing in a foreign land.

A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears of our missing and their families.

The lighted candle reflects our hope for their return.

The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one Nation under God.

The glass is inverted – to symbolize their inability to share a toast.

The chair is empty – they are missing…………….. (moment of silence).

Then followed the Firing of Honors by the Chapter 607 Honor Guard, the playing of “Taps” and the Benediction.  

May is Military Appreciation Month, honoring all who have served or are serving. But Memorial Day (Monday, May 27) is a special day honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice. For many, though, Memorial Day has lost its meaning, becoming nothing more than a holiday to be celebrated by barbecues and picnics. 

This Memorial Day, please set aside some time to thank God for America, still the greatest and freest nation on earth. And thank those who gave their lives to preserve this freedom. 

And please join me in saying, after 55 years, “Welcome home, PFC Edward Chappell!” 

Colonel Eidsmoe serves as Professor of Constitutional Law for the Oak Brook College of Law & Government Policy (obcl.edu), as Senior Counsel for the Foundation for Moral Law (morallaw.org), and is active in the American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America. You may contact him for speaking engagements at eidsmoeja@juno.com.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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