If you’ve ever attended a military funeral, perhaps you noticed that the honor guards pay meticulous attention to folding the U.S. flag that once draped the casket. Guards make crisp, precise folds a total of 13 times to complete the ceremony. Much like every other aspect of our nation’s greatest symbol, each of the 13 folds holds a special significance.
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. It’s a dignified way to treat the flag, and gives a powerful touch to patriotic ceremonies.
This 13-fold procedure was common long before the more modern assigned meanings. The source and date of origin of the meanings is unknown, but for those who participate or witness a formal flag folding ceremony, whether it be on Flag Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Veterans Day, or at a military funeral, the 13 meanings can create an uplifting experience.
This is what the 13 folds 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 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.
- 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, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”