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The Traditional Meaning Of The 13 Folds of the American Flag

The American flag is one of the most important symbols of the United States. Americans honor the flag often, but no ceremony is more moving than the traditional folding of the flag. The formal ceremony may take place on Flag Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Veterans Day, or at a military funeral. The 13 folds carry a specific meaning and create a moving experience.

Specifically during a military funeral service or service for a Veteran, a United States burial casket flag will drape the casket to honor the memory of their service to the country. The canton of blue is placed at the head of the casket, over the left shoulder of the deceased. This portion of the flag denoting honor contains the stars, representing the states our Veterans have served in uniform.

Public Law 94-344 does not place any significance or meaning to the thirteen folds of the American flag, however, the ceremonial folding and presentation of the flag has proven to be a moving tribute of lasting importance to Americans and has become an adopted tradition. The folded flag is emblematic of the tri-cornered hat worn by the Patriots of the American Revolution. When folded, no red or white stripe is to be evident, leaving only the blue field with stars.

Flag etiquette dictates that every time an American flag is to be stored or presented during a ceremony, its handlers should fold it in half twice lengthwise; then starting with the end opposite the blue field, make a taut triangular fold. Handlers continue to fold the flag in triangles until the flag has formed a triangular “pillow” with the blue field showing on the outside.

Though some may be unaware, every armed forces Veteran and member on active duty or in the active reserve has the right to be buried with patriotic flourishes provided by a military honor guard at no cost to the family. However, for this to occur, you MUST provide a copy of the deceased’s DD214 form.

This is what the 13 folds traditionally mean:

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

  • The second fold signifies our belief in eternal life.

  • The third fold is made in honor and tribute 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.

  • The fourth fold exemplifies our weaker nature as citizens trusting in God; it is to Him we turn for His divine guidance.

  • The fifth fold is an acknowledgement to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in de-align 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.

  • 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, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.

  • The ninth fold is an honor to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of men and women who have made this country great have been molded.

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

  • The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

  • The 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.

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


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