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The Meaning of the 13 Flag Folds at a Military Funeral

The Thirteen Folds of the American flag are rich in tradition, meaning, and honor.

Military funerals are majestic and ceremonial.  Prominent in such occasions is the flag-draped casket.

The blue field of our nation’s flag is placed at the head of the coffin, over the left shoulder of the deceased veteran.  

This arrangement began during the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th century when a flag was used to shroud the dead as they were carried from a field of battle.

Along with the flag draped casket, a veteran’s final service is characterized by the firing of three volley each by seven service members; the playing of Taps; and the folding of the flag by the Honor Guard before presentation to the next of kin.

Thirteen times the colors are folded; each has a message.


A Sacred Ceremony  

The Honor Guard lifts the flag off the casket.

In silence, the tautly held flag is twice folded in half lengthwise; then (from the end opposite the blue field), a Guard member diagonally folds the end to form a triangle.

From that point on, the Guard continues the crisp folding of the colors in triangular shapes until the blue field of the flag is reached.

At that point, the edge of the blue field is tucked into the open fold, leaving only the white stars on the blue field visible on both sides.  

The two lengthwise folds and the eleven triangular folds comprise the thirteen folds commonly associated with the presentation of the flag at a military funeral.


The Thirteen Folds

These symbolize the 13 Colonies that formed the United States.  Within this context, each fold is steeped in tradition.

  • The First Fold:  This fold of Old Glory symbolizes life.
  • The Second Fold: A belief in an eternal life is the reason for this crease.
  • The Third Fold: This third triangle  commemorates veterans who gave a portion of their lives for the defense of this country and to promote peace throughout the world.
  • The Fourth Fold: In acknowledging the weaker nature of humanity, this crease in the nation’s colors signifies a trust in the Almighty for guidance in peace and war.
  • The Fifth Fold: As Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr, once stated, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”  This fold is a tribute to the United States.
  • The Sixth Fold: This triangle of the nation’s flag is symbolic of where our hearts lie in relation to our sense of allegiance to the country.
  • The Seventh Fold: It is because of the Armed Forces that this nation – and its flag – are protected from her enemies.  This seventh mark of honor pays tribute to service members.
  • The Eighth Fold: Psalm 23:4 is at the heart of this fold as it symbolizes that the departed veteran has entered the valley of the shadow of death and that he or she will see the eternal light.
  • The Ninth Fold: This bend in the nation’s banner honors the faith, love, and devotion of all women and mothers.
  • The Tenth Fold: This fold is for the fathers whose sons and daughters who have served this country.
  • The Eleventh Fold:  Of Old Testament and Judaic origin, this fold represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • The Twelfth Fold: This folding of the Stars & Stripes represents for Christians the eternity of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
  • The Thirteenth Fold:  This final fold of the flag leaves the stars pointed upwards as a reminder of the nation’s motto, “In God We Trust.”


The Flag Folds and Memorial Day

With the thirteen folds of the American flag, a respectful and dignified acknowledgement is rendered to all veterans who have died in defending our freedoms.

On this Memorial Day weekend, read about these Airmen who marched 830 miles for their fallen brothers.


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