Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to Fold The American Flag - Is There Symbolic Meaning?

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.

Traditionally, a symbol of liberty, the American flag has carried the message of freedom, and inspired Americans, both at home and abroad.

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.

Today, our flag flies on constellations of Air Force satellites that circle our globe,  the fin flash of our aircraft, each Naval ship at sea in harms way  and in every corner of the world. Indeed, it flies in the heart of every American who serves our great Nation. The sun never sets on our cherished flag. 

Since 1776 no generation of Americans has been spared the responsibility of defending freedom... Today's service men and women remain committed to preserving the freedom that others won for us, for generations to come.

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. Since the dawn of the 20th century, our military and citizens have proudly flown the flag in every major conflict on the sea, land and skies around the world. It is their responsibility ... to continue to protect and preserve the rights, privileges and freedoms that we, as Americans, enjoy today.

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.

Properly folding the Stars & Stripes may look complicated, but it is not. In recent years after 9/11 many have taken the folding of our nations flag to ascribe to meaning for each fold of the flag. There are several scripts writtern to support a beautiful telling. However there is really no meaning ascribed that is inclusive of all people in our great nation.

Therein lies a problem. We are one United States that is inclusive and does not leave anyone group or religion out. Below is a popular script I found that is beautiful in it's telling, but limited in meaning for the above reasons.

Here is a typical sequence of one of the scripted readings:

(Begin reading as Honor Guard or Flag Detail is coming forward).

The flag folding ceremony represents the same religious principles on which our country was originally founded. The portion of the flag denoting honor is the canton of blue containing the stars representing the states our veterans served in uniform. The canton field of blue dresses from left to right and is inverted when draped as a pall on a casket of a veteran who has served our country in uniform.

In the Armed Forces of the United States, at the ceremony of retreat the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation's honored dead. The next morning it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body.

(Wait for the Honor Guard or Flag Detail to unravel and fold the flag into a quarter fold--resume reading when Honor Guard is standing ready.)

What these Marines do is careful, respectful and full of meaning. 

HERE IS BUT ONE SCRIPTED MEANING. It is not the only one.
  • 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."
(Wait for the Honor Guard or Flag Detail to inspect the flag--after the inspection, the reading may continue.)

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.

U.S. Folding Ceremony

After the flag is folded completely and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat. This reminds us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington and the sailors and Marines who served under Captian 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.

May God Bless the United States of America.

(1) From a report Secretary of Congress Robert Thompson wrote to define the Seal of our Nation (1777).
(2) Text from President Woodrow Wilson's Flag Day message (1917).
(3) Based upon historical facts.
(4) Concoran, Michael. For Which It Stands: An Anecdotal History of the American Flag
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN-0-743-23617-3
(5) Lopez, C. Todd. "New Flag-Folding Script Focuses on History, AF Significance,"
Air Force Print News. 18 Aug 2009
(6) Singleton, David. Honor Our Flag: How to Care For, Fly and Otherwise Respect the Stars and Stripes. Guilford, CT. Globe Pequot Press, 2001 ISBN 0-0762-72368-8

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