Is There a Meaning Behind Each Fold of the American Flag? Well, that depends… For more than 200 years, the American flag has been the symbol of our nation’s unity, as well as a source of pride and inspiration for millions of citizens. Born on June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress determined that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternating between seven red and six white; and that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation. Between 1777 and 1960, the shape and design of the flag evolved into the flag presented before you today. The 13 horizontal stripes represent the original 13 colonies, while the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. The colors of the flag are symbolic as well; red symbolizes hardiness and valor; white signifies purity and innocence; and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.
In 1814, Francis Scott Key was so moved at seeing the Stars and Stripes waving after the British shelling of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry that he wrote the words to The Star Spangled Banner. In 1892 the flag inspired Francis Bellamy to write the “Pledge of Allegiance,” our most famous flag salute and patriotic oath. In July 1969 the American flag was “flown” in space when Neil Armstrong planted it on the surface of the moon.
Since 1776 no generation of Americans has been spared the responsibility of defending freedom… By displaying the flag and giving it a distinctive fold, we show respect to the flag, and express our gratitude to those individuals who fought, and continue to fight for freedom, at home and abroad.
Traditionally, a symbol of liberty, the American flag has carried the message of freedom, and inspired Americans, both at home and abroad. The United States flag represents who we are. It stands for the freedom we all share and the pride and patriotism we feel for our country. We cherish its legacy, as a beacon of hope to one and all. Long may it wave.
While there is no official flag-folding ceremony[i] and there is no official meaning to each of the folds. That said, some people find solace in adding meaning to each fold so here are a few scripts to be used during Flag-Folding Ceremonies.
The PATROITIC Flag-Folding Script (#1)
As the flag is folded, for each fold recite the following:
- Fold 1: The 13 stripes represent the original 13 states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island.
- Fold 2: The 50 stars represent our 50 United States of America.
- Fold 3: “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death” — Patrick Henry
- Fold 4: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman” — Thomas Paine
- Fold 5: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” — Declaration of Independence
- Fold 6: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America” — United States Constitution
- Fold 7: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”, — Bill of Rights: First Amendment
- Fold 8: “The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government” — George Washington
- Fold 9: “My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!” — Thomas Jefferson
- Fold 10: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” — Abraham Lincoln
- Fold 11: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door” — Emma Lazarus, inscription on the Statue of Liberty
- Fold 12: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” — John Fitzgerald Kennedy
- Fold 13: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
The BOY SCOUT Flag Folding Script (#2)
- Fold 1: In honor of the thirteen original colonies and our forefathers who founded this great nation, we salute you.
- Fold 2: To the men who died in the War for Independence, we salute you.
- Fold 3: To those men who fell in the War of 1812, to preserve our freedom, we salute you.
- Fold 4: To the brave soldiers of the Civil War, we salute you.
- Fold 5: To those who shed their blood in the name of hope and freedom in The Great War, we salute you.
- Fold 6: For our fathers and sons who died in the terrible battles of World War Two, Pearl Harbor, Anzio, Midway, The Bulge, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Normandy, and Berlin, we salute you.
- Fold 7: To the men of the First Marine Division, who, in a rear guard action at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea saved their battalion and the lives of their brother Marines, we salute you.
- Fold 8: For the brave men and women of our armed forces who died on the fields of fire in Vietnam and whose names will live on forever on that hallowed wall, we salute you.
- Fold 9: For our commander in chief, who leads our nation in good times, and bad, we salute you.
- Fold 10: For the Boy Scouts of America and all the Scouts who have gone before us, we salute you.
- Fold 11: To God, our parents and our families who we love and respect, we salute you.
- Fold 12: To the men and women of our armed forces, the Arsenal of Democracy and the Hammer of Freedom, we salute you.
- Fold 13: And last, to freedom, because with out freedom there is no honor, without honor, we are not Americans, and on this we vow, that as long as this flag flies, we salute you.
Recitation of THE FLAG at Flag-Folding (#3)
This poem is to be read while the flag is folded without pauses for each fold.
"The Flag" Something has been bothering me, so I thought I might talk it over with you — because it is about you and me. I remember some time ago, people would line up on both side of the street to watch the parade, and naturally I was leading every one, proudly waving in the breeze. And you, I remember, were standing there, straight as a soldier. You didn't have a hat, but you were giving the right salute. Remember your little sister? Not to be outdone, she was saluting the same as you with her right hand over her heart — remember? What happened? I'm still the same old flag. Oh, I've added a few more stars since you were a boy, and a lot more blood has been shed since those parades of long ago. But now, somehow I don't feel as proud as I used to feel. When I come down the street, you just stand there with your hands in your pockets. You may give me a small glance, and then you look away. I see children running around you shouting; they don't seem to know who I am. I saw one man take his hat off, then he looked around, and when he didn't see anybody else take off his hat, he quickly put his on again. Is it a sin to be patriotic today? Have you forgotten what I stand for, and where I have been? Anzio, Guadalcanal, Korea and Vietnam! So when you see me, please stand straight and place your hand over your heart, and I'll know that you remembered. I'll salute you by waving back!
Flag-Folding Script #4
What follows is a popular script for folding the flag. It should not be used in official government flag folding ceremonies as it is in violation of the Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause (First Amendment) requires that expression not create the reasonable impression that the government is sponsoring, endorsing, or inhibiting religion generally, or favoring or disfavoring a particular religion. This was, however, the original flag folding ceremonial meaning scripted by the US Air Force Academy in 1954.
- The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
- The second fold is a symbol of our belief in the eternal life.
- The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain a 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 times 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 in to 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, love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
- The tenth fold is a tribute to 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 Ghost.
- When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God we Trust.”
[i] Public Law 94-344, known as the Federal Flag Code, is the law of the land regarding the handling and displaying of the American flag. It does not include anything regarding the significance or meaning of folding the flag. The code was first adopted by Congress in 1923 and revised numerous times. The code does not call for a ceremonial folding of the flag and the folding procedure is military traditional. Same for the meanings of the folds. The original Christian religious meaning (see script #4) came from an Air Force Academy Chaplain and was intended to be used at burial ceremonies. Official or not, the idea of attaching meaning of the folds and was found in many governmental and military manuals and recited at numerous military funerals. In October, 2007, the National Cemetery Administration banned the practice of giving the meaning of the folds of the flag at all national cemeteries, but the decision was quickly revised. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs issued a statement on 10/20/07 saying that any recitations at the graveside of a veteran can reflect the wishes of the family. In other words, if the family wants the meaning of the folds to be included, it can be included.