Air Force Honor Guard History

Air Force Honor Guard History

The Honor Guard traces its beginning to May 1948 when Headquarters Command USAF was instructed to develop plans for an elite ceremonial unit comparable to those of the other armed services. As a result, a ceremonial unit was activated within the Air Police Squadron in September 1948 with an authorized strength of 98 enlisted and two officers. However, due to transfers and personnel attrition, the end of the year found the Ceremonial Detachment, for all practical purposes, disbanded. It wasn't until March 1949 that sufficient personnel were assigned to enable the unit to function.

The Ceremonial Detachment continued to be assigned to the Air Police Squadron until December 1971. Finally, on January 1, 1972, the Honor Guard came into its own as a separate unit.

Today's Honor Guard is comprised of volunteers who are carefully screened for their ability and physical dexterity. Only those persons who are highly motivated and maintain an exceptionally high standard of appearance, conduct, and aptitude for ceremonial duty are considered.


Just as our country received its birthright from people of many lands, so did the stars and stripes rise from several origins. The stars and stripes are symbols of heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired since the beginning of time. The stripes are symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.
Both have been represented on standards of nations, from banners of ancient Egypt and Babylon to the 12 stared flag of the Spanish Conquistadors under Cortez. Continuing in favor, they spread to striped standards of Holland and West India company in the 17th Century and to the present patterns of stars and stripes on flags of several nations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Many of the flags created by our forefathers were symbols of their struggles with the wilderness of new lands. Beavers, pine trees, rattlesnakes, and anchors are some examples used on the flags created by our forefathers with mottos such as: hope, liberty, appeal to heaven or don't tread on me.

Standardization became necessary as the colonies became closer and the revolution grew. On December 2, 1775 the Continental Congress approved a flag design to be flown by ships departing to intercept British supply vessels. Lt John Paul Jones first hoisted the flag on the Alfred at Philadelphia. The flag had 13 red and white stripes and a (canton) with the British Union Jack with the St. George's and St. Andrew crossed on top. It was called the Continental Flag and later the Grand Union. It soon became inappropriate so they thought of a new idea for a flag.

An act of Congress established the Stars and Stripes on June 14, 1777. They stated that the 13 stars represented a "new constellation" on a union of blue. Stars and stripes were added over the years, but would get too big by adding stars and stripes for every added state. So, Capt Samuel C. Reid, Commander of the General Armstrong in the War of 1812 and Peter (Waldone) suggested to Congress that they should have a flag with 13 stripes for the 13 original colonies and just add a star for every new state on the blue union. Congress approved the idea on April 18, 1818. The flag would have 13 alternating red and white stripes, 7 red and 6 white, for the 13 original colonies and a new star would be added for each new state on July 4 following it's admission. The next flag made after it was passed and had twenty stars. Stars were added over the years and the union began to fill. Then on July 4, 1960 we were flying our present flag with the admission of Hawaii as our 50th state.

Veterans and other patriotic organizations gathered traditional customs and practices of displaying our flag and ensuring that it is properly honored nearly 50 years ago. These served as a voluntary guide until World War II when Congress prepared a formal code of flag etiquette to assure uniform practices throughout the nation.

(1) In a joint resolution by both Houses in the 77th Congress, the Code became Public Law 82977 on December 22, (1947). It was a guide for citizens who were not required to conform to the regulations of the armed forces or other branches of the government. The military services and the Department of Defense (D.O.D) have instructions, regulations, and manuals prescribing the use and display of the flag. Examples include D.O.D Instruction #1005.6, Half staffing of the American Flag and AFM 900-2, (Flag Use and Display of the American Flag).
When our flag is raised it should be raised briskly. When lowered, it should be lowered ceremoniously. The same ceremonious respect should be used when folding our flag. By folding our flag with dignity and honor, we not only show our respect to our flag but patriotism to our country.

Webster's Dictionary meaning of the flag is: a piece of fabric displayed to identify a nation, group of persons, or to serve as a signal. The meaning derived from the design of our nations flag is:

- White stars on a blue field; the heavens, calm and serene , as it can be filled with stars.

- The red and white stars; rays of light reaching down from the sun to gently caress you and I.

A more detailed description of the colors of our nation's flag is:

- Red: blood, pain, rage, courage, warming

- White: purity, hope, life, cold

- Blue: calm, serene, true, patriotic, uniform

Now that we have discussed a few ideas about the origins and meanings of the color's of our flag it is safe to assume that courage is derived from the red stripes representing the blood of those lives lost to defend and protect our way of life and the rage we all feel when our feeling of freedom is possibly compromised. Freedom is derived from the white stars on the blue field representing a sky free from fire, flack, and oppression. Peace is derived from the white stripes representing purity in every form that we try to preserve.


In 1912, New Mexico and Arizona were admitted to the Union to increase the number of stars to 48, but the number remained that way for more than 46 years and two world wars. Finally, in 1959 Alaska was admitted into the Union bringing the number to 49. Our present flag came to be in 1960 with the acceptance of Hawaii into the Union, our 50th state. From the first flag to our present, 27 changes were made to finalize the combination of 50 white stars on a blue field and 7 red and 6 white stripes.


The flags on graves we display on Memorial Day was started by Mrs. Laura D. Richardson of Knoxville, Tennessee. Mrs. Richardson was the Chairperson of a committee of 4 women to obtain flowers for decorating the three thousand graves in the national cemetery of Knoxville. Unfortunately, the flowers were unavailable or out-of-season, so a substitute was added. One day she saw some flags in the store window and got an instant idea. She purchased the flags and persuaded the local lumber mill to provide the wood for the tiny flagpoles and on May 30, 1874 we saw the flags in a national cemetery for the first time.


The custom of covering the casket with a flag believed to have occurred during the pre-Civil War- Civil War days when on the battlefield caskets were not available. The, flag was wrapped around the dead soldier's body forming a makeshift pall in which he could be buried. The word pall can mean different things depending on where you look. For example: a cloth often of velvet for spreading over a coffin, bier, or tomb (American College Dictionary) or denotes the flag held at waist level, stretched taunt and kept even at all points while being held (AFT 143-1). Later, this custom assumed a deeper significance. The position of the blue field is reversed to indicate mourning with the blue field on the right as the flag faces the coffin. It may be said that the flag is embracing the deceased who in life has served the flag. Today, the American Flag that covered the casket symbolizes the deceased service in the armed forces of the United States of America.


It is customary to drape the flag on the casket over the part of the cover, which is usually left on the asked during the period that the body is being viewed. The flag is placed in the same position as when it is used to cover the casket (union at the head over the left shoulder) union in full view. The stripes should be folded under so the flag will not hang excessively at the foot. Some interesting trivia pertaining to flags and burials is that it is not improper to bury a war veteran with a small flag or should it be requested, it is proper for a veteran to be buried with his body wrapped in the flag. Additionally, the story of Betsy Ross and the first American Flag is very popular but nowhere in the history books is it supported by fact.

Totally, the flag is folded in two parts reminding us of 2 parts of life; our birth and death and our life here and hereafter. The red and white stripes interchange throughout our flag reminding us; in the red, of the blood and hardships of life and in the white, of the purity and goodness of life. Every life has both red and white. The flag is carefully folded into the shape of the tri-cornered hat. Reminiscent of the hats worn by the soldiers who fought and won the revolution for American independence. The three fold also reminds Christians of the 3-in- I of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The red and white are soon folded and only blue and the stars are seen, reminding us of heaven. When our life of red and white is over, may only heaven remain.


When the National Flag is worn out, it should be disposed of with due reverence. According to approved custom, the union is first cut from the flag then the two pieces which are no longer forming a flag are cremated privately and without ceremony.


Half-staff or mast was and still is a naval custom to (honor) the flag in salute, respect or as a sign of distress. In the early times it was a custom to fly the victors colors over the defeated enemy and to run-down the enemy's colors for that purpose. Thus lowering the flag to half-staff during a military funeral symbolizes the victory of the spiritual over the temporal. Where flags cannot be flown at half-staff or mast, they should have a black streamer from the spearhead halfway down the flag. Flags hung horizontally or perpendicular should bear a black bunting border or appropriate width.

Funerals are ceremonies connected with the disposition of the body of a dead person. Military funeral ceremonies are based on a few simple customs and traditions that developed through the years. Some elements of the funeral ceremony are based on old expedients used long ago on the battlefield. The ceremony demonstrated our nations recognition of the debt it owes the services and sacrifices of members of the armed forces.

There are three general classifications for funerals:

(1) A funeral service with a chapel service, funeral procession and graveside ceremony.

(2) A funeral service without a chapel service but with a procession at the mouth of the cemetery to gravesite and then a graveside ceremony.

(3) A funeral service with a graveside ceremony only.


Pallbearers escort the body of the deceased safely to the place of internment.
The Firing Party pays final tribute to the deceased with the firing of three rounds of seven volleys. The firing of the three rounds of seven volleys dates it's origins back to the 14th century when firearms began to appear on the battlefield. Mercenary bands (professional soldiers) grew in Switzerland, Italy, and Germany and they accepted contracts to fight for or against anyone. They varied in size from tens to hundreds to thousands. Their symbol of corporate existence was flags or colors. They respected them very much, especially the German bands. We derive our reverence for colors from the Germans who fired three volleys in the name of the Trinity over the dead. Ancient beliefs say that the three volleys were used to scare away the evil sprits. Other sources say that in the early days of warfare, firing of the three volleys was a custom of opposing armies to declare a truce so that each could clear its dead from the battlefield. Also, the volleys fired three times was a signal that the burial ceremony was finished and it invited the enemy to join in battle once again.

Colors bear the national colors and service colors of the deceased. Colors trace its beginnings back to the early Roman era. The early Roman armies were comprised of approximately 120 men called maniples, meaning handful. They used handfuls of straw tied around the end of a pole as a rallying point in battle. Later, they reorganized themselves into cohorts (three maniples). The straw standard was then replaced by symbols such as bears, globes, and dragons. Each legion had an eagle standard carried by knights and was considered to be sacred. The cohorts eventually evolved into using a square piece of cloth with their own device embroidered on it. At the beginning of the 17th Century, when the regiment system was started, each regiment had a color. That is when colored standards were used as a means of battlefield identifications. This is the symbolism used for the colors detail bearing the deceased service members national and service colors.

The slow cadence of the modem funerals is dictated by solemn music prescribed for funeral march. The slow march arose from the practice of using heavy artillery wagons to transport the remains of the deceased to the grave. The slow march custom arose during the reign of Henry The VIII. Drummers marched behind the wagons and beat what was known as Dede Sounde.


Originally, the American Army used the French L'Extinction Des Feux (Lights Out) for Taps. It was said to be Napoleon's favorite but it did not suit General Daniel Butterfield. Not knowing a note of music, General Butterfield decided to put something together more suited for signaling the end of the day's activity. With the help of the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton, General Butterfield created Taps one night in July 1862. Taps was made official throughout the Army in 1932.
Taps was used in connection with military funerals during the same campaign. A soldier was buried at a time when Capt Tidball's battery occupied an advance position concealed in the woods. It was unsafe to fire the customary three volleys over the grave. So, Capt Tidball thought that Taps would be the most appropriate ceremony that could be substituted. The custom went up through the chain-of-command of the Army and was finally confirmed by orders.

Taps over the grave today marks the beginning of the long last sleep and expresses hope and confidence in an ultimate reveille to come.


Fades the light, and afar Goeth @ Cometh night; and a star Leadeth all, Speedeth all To their rest. Day is done, Gone the sun, From the hills, From the lake, From the sky, All is well, Safely rest, God is night


Their are several meanings for the origins of the salute. One being that during the days of chivalry, knights in (veil) raised their visors to friends for identification purposes. The junior was required to make the first gesture. Another belief is in the early days in Borgia, assassination by dagger were not uncommon. It was customary for men to approach each other with raised hands, palms to the front to prove that there was no dagger hidden. Lastly, in the younger days of the military organization the junior uncovered when meeting or addressing the senior. Gradually the act of uncovering was simplified by touching the cap and finally our present day salute, which means, "I greet you".

Presenting arms with a weapon was a token of submitting your weapon to the person being honored. - It has been traced back to 1660, when Charles II returned to England to claim the throne. The sword salute is said to have started back in the days when crusaders kissed the hilt (cross) before battle and lowered the point toward the ground as a symbol of trust in putting down your guard.


Uniforms have only been worn for the past three hundred years. The oldest uniform in existence is worn by the papal guard of the Vatican, which were said to have been designed by Michael Angelo. The main reason for uniforms is the early years were to identify friend from foe.

The aiguillette was the mark of an aide de camp. The French definition of aiguillette is a metal tipped throng. The aiguillette distinguishes the officer aide and the attaches'. It's origins have several beliefs, one being that it was used as a string to tie the knight's horses up. Another belief is that the metal tipped throng on the string was used to lace knights into their armor. Finally, the string with pencil on it was used for writing down orders.

The fourragere (foo-ra-zher) is a unit citation. It is a symbol of a hangman's rope and nail. It is believed that a unit was threatened that they would all be hung if they failed to do good in a battle. During, the War of 1870, the jails were emptied so they could defend the city. The convicts wrapped the hangman's rope around their shoulder as part of an improvised insignia. The results of their efforts allowed the men to keep their lives and insignia.


One feature of the human anatomy is that by carrying a shield on the left arm, leaving the right hand free for a weapon. The heart is afforded maximum protection by the shield. South paws (left handed) did their best. Considerations for protection led crusaders for protection to wear small decorations over their heart. Could this be why we also wear our military decorations on the left?


Mr. Francis Bellamy of Rome, New York wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. It was first published on September 8, 1892, in connection with the National Public Schools celebration of Columbus Day by the Youth's Companion. The first change to the pledge was made on June 14, 1923. It changed the words from my flag to the flag because of the foreign-born adults and children. It was belief that they would believe that they were pledging allegiance to the flag of their native land. The second change came on June 14, 1954 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower amended the language by adding the words under God.

Proper hand position during the Pledge of Allegiance is placing the right hand over the heart until the words "to the flag". Then extend the arm with the palm upward toward the flag until the pledge is complete. The salute was discontinued because it resembled the Nazi-Fascist salute. The difference only being that the Nazi-Fascist saluted with the palm facing down. Although it is not directed in the Code and is not considered bad form to omit the right hand being placed over the heart. Many schools prefer the gesture and local procedures should therefore, be observed in this regard. In uniform it is appropriate to remain silent and render the military salute if outdoors. A male not in uniform should remove any headgear (if worn) and place the right hand over the heart and recite the pledge.