What Does Each Flag Fold Mean?

Folding the American flag into a triangle gives unique honor and respect to the flag. Have you ever wondered what each of the 13 folds represents? Below we explain what each of the folds mean.

13_folds_of_American_Flag

The first fold is a symbol of life.

The second fold is for our belief in eternal life.

The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing rank, who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.

The fourth fold stands for our weaker nature; as American citizens trusting in God, it’s to Him we turn to in times of peace as well as war for his divine guidance.

The fifth fold is a tribute to America. 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 where our heart lies. It’s with our flag that we pledge allegiance to the flag and the republic it stands for.

The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces. For it is the armed forces that protect our country and flag against enemies, whether they be domestic or foreign.

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 a tribute to womanhood, for it is 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 has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.

The eleventh 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 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, which some consider the 13th fold; the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

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29 Replies to “What Does Each Flag Fold Mean?

  1. Thank you for your patriotism in this very informative presentation on meanings of the folds of the American flag.

  2. Thank you very much for the information you have given us about the 13th folds of our American flag, it just made me love are flag even more that I thought I could Sir.

  3. I too, never knew they were meanings for the folding of our American flag. From today on, I go forth with knowledge and pride for our country. God bless our USA!!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this . I had it in another phone WUTH another carrier and thought I’d lost it forever. I’m a veteran but I think the whole nation needs to know this. With all this controversy going on about the flag, the national anthem, they both are one of you think about it literally.

  4. At my husbands funeral, after the flag was folded and before it was handed to me the airmen moved their hands in a pattern over and around the triangle of the flag. What did this mean?

    1. First of all, sorry for your loss.

      I was Army, so there may be some variation, but we did similar movements when I was on funeral detail. Mostly, this is a careful and deliberate inspection of the flag before it is presented.

      Loose folds, especially the last bit of tucking the folds in could result in the flag becoming unfurled / unfolded while being handled. Also, checking for lint, loose threads or other detractors of appearance.

      The flag is is inspected before use -so the likelihood of defects are actually minimal. The funeral detail practices regularly and particularly for funeral ceremonies they perform, so the folding is done correctly in almost all cases. So really, this inspection is a part of the last show of respect to both our fallen comrade and their surviving family.

      1. At my husband’s funeral, they also tucked in the spent shell cases from the 21 gun salute….I did not know this until months later at home while looking at the flag…Of course during the of the funeral, you’re not fully aware of everything that is happening at the time…
        That was in May of 1996, 21 years ago.
        I just last week attended a military funeral and watched closely as one of the Marines held the folded flag while the other Marine went all over the flag carefully making sure all the wrinkles were out and all the corners tucked in…before it was presented to the wife.
        Thanks for all the Gold Star Families, and all that have lost their loved ones.

    2. The tightening of the corners and insurance of a properly folded flag so that it reflects the gratitude that is being presented on behalf of the nation and the armed forces is performed by the one inspecting the flag before it is handed over for presentation.If it is not adequate then he will instruct them to refold the flag. All the practice pays off so they do not make this mistake. I am deeply sorry for your loss and appreciate the sacrifice of your service member. His sacrifice for this country and your’s are greatly honored and appreciated.

    3. The one holding the flag was making sure it was perfectly folded. The person looking on, that would later accept the flag to present the flag to the family, was directing the person with their eyes where the the folds needed attention.

  5. I am the General Manager of a golf club in FLorida. We have a wonderful service on Memorial Day each year and I put in our program this year a demonstration on folding our great flag and describing each fold as most people do not know there is a wonderful meaning for each fold. I did read under a clarification heading on the American Legion site that Volunteer honor guards are only authorized to read the 13 fold flag recitation or any comparable script. Is that true?

    Thank you.

    1. Based on our understanding of flag etiquette (see information below) civilians are allowed different standards than Government personal. Having said that if you have a local VFW or American Legion post in your town you might contact them. They might well be able to have experienced veterans that could do the folding for you.

      § 5. Display and Use of Flag by Civilians; Codification of Rules and Customs; Definition.
      The following codification of existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America is established for the use of such civilians or civilian groups or organizations as may not be required to conform with regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the Government of the United States. The flag of the United States for the purpose of this chapter shall be defined according to Sections 1 and 2 of Title 4 and Executive Order 10834 issued pursuant thereto.

  6. Thank you for addressing this most solemn presentation of the flag.
    I often wondered about the reason for the triangle. Now what symbolism is the 21 gun salute at military funerals?

    1. Beginning in our colonial period, the United States fired one shot for each state in the Union. This was continued until 1841 when it was reduced to 21 from 26. Although it had been in use for more than 30 years, the 21-gun salute was not formally adopted until Aug. 18, 1875.

  7. Thank you so much for putting this piece of information out there. I never knew there was a reason for the exact number of folds. As being a former military wife, I found out just how patriotic I am. I have all the respect and gratefulness to all who have served our country and are presently do so. This includes the families also. I am glad to know the reason behind the folds. I am also glad to read that a lot of the meaning has to do with this country’s belief in our God and the part He plays in our government. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  8. Thank you for having this information for us to share with others. I remember my oldest grandson reading what each fold means in folding our flag. He was just a young boy. Now he is 21 years old and is an Army Soldier. I am so proud of him that he wants to serve his country in this way.

  9. I experienced this beautiful ceremony just yesterday and until then I had no idea what each fold meant. When the men from our local VFW started every eye in the room was on them and each ear was listening intently. What an honor it was to see these men, not so young anymore but so very proud, presenting a mourning wife such a beautiful treasure. My life was changed with just knowing the wonderful God loving man that had passed and it was touched deeply with this ceremony. Thank you so much to the men and women who have pledged to serve and possibly die for this country that I love.

  10. In Feb 2016, my stepfather passed away. He was 89 and had served in WWII and Korea. The only thing he requested that we do, was to make sure he got a military funeral. I had never attended a military funeral. Even though it was a sad day, I tell people it was one of the most moving things I had ever witnessed!The precision of their movements, folding of the flag, the respect for it, my stepdad and my mom, and all the family and friends was awesome! And then the 21 gun salute that made everyone jump, was unbelievable! And then the final inspection of the flag and the handing it off to the family, was done with such respect. And you could feel the gratitude from them for his service, his sacrifice, and our loss. It made me appreciate what a sacrifice so many men and women make for our country and our flag. I was always proud to be an American, but this sent me over the top! Glad to know what the folds mean! Thank you!

      1. It is properly referred to as the 3 volley salute; 21 gun salute has an entirely different application. It is performed by the Honor Guard, not the firing squad, which Dad’s funeral director had been calling it. The newly informed director was told that the military would send 2 or maybe 3 uniformed personnel for the burial. Flag folders and maybe bugle player, I figured. A dark blue government van arrived at the cemetery and out stepped SEVEN uniformed personnel from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where Dad served during the Korean Conflict. During taps my significant other asked in a whisper whether I had ordered the fly over. From above the clouds there was a jet noise in this quiet farm country. Probably a commercial flight, but I like to think it was a fly over for Dad. When it was OK for everyone to leave, one of the Air Force came to me and asked, “We would like the flag back. We’re not satisfied with the fold.” They refolded it a couple more times at their van. Dad the Perfectionist would have liked that.
        Consider that steep congressionally ordered budget cuts known as sequestration in 2013 resulted in the Air Force cutting the Honor Team to two, bringing them in line with those of other veterans. Volleys were to be discontinued and the entire honoring was encouraged to be delegated to veterans service organizations. Apparently the Base Commander decided that Dad deserved a last measure of honor for his service.
        I am eternally grateful and proud of Dad’s Air Force.

  11. I never ever knew that the holding of the flag had meaning till I went to a friend’s funeral, and retired
    veterans were there to honor him, and heard a veteran state a meaning each time the flag was being fold. My father is a veteran, and I hope someone does the same, and says those meaning each time its being fold, because we were never taught that or knew of this so I’m going to make sure that they do the same for my father as I’m sure people will ne surprised when they see, and hear the 13th meaning. God Bless you, and Thank you for your service, and for you families sacrifice.

  12. I have always been told on the final fold of the flag you should be able to count 13 state. And was told the represent the 13 colonies just like the 13 buttons on the Dress Blue Uniform in the Navy.I guess I have been wrong all my life.

    1. You may not have been wrong. Bear in mind that the number of stars has changed over the years. I have a 48 star flag that dates it per-1959; Before Alaska and Hawaii became states. I just looked at it and it is folded with 12 stars showing. I wonder if I have it folded correctly. I would also like to know if anyone knows who came up with these meanings. I think it would be interesting to research those people. I hope this information is not lost.

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