Why the flag is folded the way it is and what it means

In the coming weeks, we will visit through TV and news reports the funerals of many people. In those clips, we will see the folding of our flag over the caskets of many victims of last week. When you see this, I want you to remember something very special. Those whose bodies are laid to earthly rest will be honored by a tradition of folding the American Flag. This is not just a nice gesture, but has great meaning from our history–a history which even terror cannot overcome. And so, as you get the lumps in your throats, tears in your eyes, and struggle with bitterness, anger, and frustration, here is something to remember how special these people were:


Have you ever noticed on TV or at military funerals that the honor guard pays meticulous attention to correctly folding the American flag 13 times?

I've known how the 21 gun salute was determined (adding the individual digits of 1776), but only recently learned why the flag was folded 13 times when it is lowered or when it is folded and handed to the widow at the burial of a veteran.

Here it is:

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 veterans departing our ranks who gave a portion of their lives for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.

The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for 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 her enemies, whether they be 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, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on Mother's Day.

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

The tenth fold is a tribute to the father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since they were first born.

The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen 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 twelfth 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 Spirit.

When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding us of our nation's motto, "In God We Trust".

After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington, and the sailors and marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones, who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today.

There are some traditions and ways of doing things which have deep meaning. You will see many flags folded in the coming weeks, and now you will know why.

Also, there are other American Flag traditions that we should be aware of.

An American Flag should be raised at sunrise and lowered at sundown.

An American Flag should only be flown at night if it is illuminated.

And, American Flag is flown at half mast at the direction of the president in respect to those who have served the USA.

Which brings me to the dilemma of my American Flag.

When I bought my house, there was an American Flag on the porch. It was a nice old flag attached to a wooden dowel by rusted wire and screw-eyes. I thought it was pretty cool and would display it proudly off the front porch.

But, I would forget to take it in at night and the extension cord wouldn't reach to plug a light in to shine on it all night.

So the flag got more and more faded and weather-worn and the wire rusted through. It was perpetually at half-mast. Which seemed to work out OK 'cause our congressman died about that time and it made me look like a concerned citizen.

Now I never know when to fly the American Flag at half-mast. The President declares it and does it at the White House, but I always miss the announcement.

So, I take my cue from the U.S. Postal Service. I copy them. Whenever there is a national event that gets my attention and seems significant, I jump in the truck and drive by the Post Office.

Voila! I do what they do and it usually works (the one minor exception was the ice storm of 1999, that threw me off track for about 3 days.)

So, back to my American Flag.

To keep it from it's perpetual state of being half-masted, I replaced some of the rusted wire with those shower curtain thingies from the draw in the kitchen.

That worked great, but my poor old flag was getting very faded and tattered from being left out most of last winter (unilluminated, I might add.)

Now comes my dilemma: Under the present circumstances I feel guilty about flying my poor excuse of a flag.

And, I don't want to appear less patriotic than Ed and Andrea next door, so I have decided to replace it.

But, what do you do with an American Flag that you don't want anymore?

Well, this seemed to keep me from my afternoon nap for a couple of days.

I thought of flushing it down the toilet like we did with Sarah's dead goldfish, but that is impractical.

I thought of burring it in the back of the garden with a nice marker, but that seemed very unAmerican.

I can't burn it for obvious reasons.

The neighbors would see it if I put a trash sticker on it and put it out on trash day.

So, following the protocol above, I have made a decision.

Very respectfully, I will fold it in the time honored tradition stars up. I will place it carefully and neatly in a plastic garbage bag and do what I do with all important things I don't know what to do with.

I'll place it carefully in the closet under the stairs.

By the way, do you want any of your finger paintings from pre-school?

via eMail from John Treworgy, 23 October 2001