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 our flag has evolved. 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.1
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, and on the fin flash of our aircraft in harms way in every corner of the world.
Indeed, it flies in the heart of every Airman who serves our great Nation. 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. Since the dawn of the 20th century, Our Flag has been proudly flown in every major conflict on lands, seas and skies around the world. It is our responsibility to continue to protect and preserve the rights, privileges and freedoms that we, as Americans, enjoy today, that others have sacrificed to win for us.
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.
The flag folding ceremony most likely developed during Word War I, when a strong patriotic sentiment was part of the culture and flags were becoming increasingly symbolic of that patriotism. In 1923, a conference was organized to establish a code of etiquette for the flag, and in 1930, a book about the flag by James A. Moss, "The Flag of the United States, its History and Symbolism," was published.
Honor guards pay meticulous attention to correctly folding the United States of America Flag 13 times.
There is no evidence that there was any original significance behind the number of folds, however it's been conjectured that they might represent the 13 colonies, just like flag's 13 stripes. Historically, the triangular shape and the three sides appears to be more important than the number of folds in the ceremony. Jerald A. Merrick, former President of the National Flag Foundation, wrote that the three sides are symbolic of the tri-cornered hats that Revolutionary War soldiers war, the three colors of the flag, the three branches of government, the three primary documents (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights).
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.
Although there is no official or historical significance to each fold of the flag, it's become popular to ascribe a specific meaning to each one, and these are often read aloud during the flag folding ceremony. There are numerous different scripts that can be read, many with different meanings for the folds, and they usually vary from organization to organization.
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, insure 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", 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.
Boy Scout Script (not official)
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 on both sides, The North and The South, in 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.
Fold6: 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.
Fold7: 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.
Fold8: 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.
Fold13: 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.
Flag-Folding Script 2
Fold 1: "The Flag"
Fold 2: Hello. Remember me? Some people call me Old Glory, others call me the Star Spangled Banner, but whatever they call me, I am your flag, the flag of the United States of America.
Fold 3: Something has been bothering me, so I thought I might talk it over with you — because it is about you and me.
Fold 4: I remember some time ago, people would line up on both side of the street to watch the parade, and naturally I was leading everyone, proudly waving in the breeze.
Fold 5: When your Daddy saw me coming, he immediately removed his hat and placed it against his left shoulder so that his hand was directly over his heart — remember?
Fold 6: 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?
Fold 7: 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.
Fold 8: 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.
Fold 9: 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.
Fold 10: 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!
Fold 11: Take a look at the memorial honor rolls, and see the names of those patriotic Americans who gave their lives to keep this republic free. When you salute me, you are actually saluting them!
Fold 12: 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 3
Fold 1: Our flag is a symbol of life.
Fold 2: A symbol of our belief in the eternal life.
Fold 3: 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.
Fold 4: Trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.
Fold 5: "Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong."
Fold 6: 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.
Fold 7: 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.
Fold 8: 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.
Fold 9: 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.
Fold 10: A tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since they were first born.
Fold11: 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.
Fold 12: 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.
Fold 13: When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, "In God we Trust."
Flag-Folding Script 4
Fold 1 The flag is a symbol of life.
Fold 2 Belief in eternal life.
Fold 3 Honor and remembrance of the veterans departing the ranks who gave a portion of their lives for the defense of the country to attain peace throughout the world.
Fold 4 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.
Fold 5 A tribute to the 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.'
Fold 6 Where people's hearts lie. It is with their heart that they pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America , and the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
Fold 7 A tribute to its Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that they protect their country and their flag against all her enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of their republic.
Fold 8 A tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day.
Fold 9 A tribute to womanhood, and Mothers. 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.
Fold 10 A tribute to the father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of their country since they were first born.
Fold 11 The lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies in the Hebrews eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Fold 12 Represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in the Christians eyes, God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.
Fold 13 When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding them of their Nations motto, 'In God We Trust.'
At a military funeral, the twenty-one-gun salute stands for the sum of the numbers in the year 1776.