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Honoring the Symbol of Liberty and Freedom: The U.S. Flag

Participants in Wounded Warrior Project's Carry Forward event in Jacksonville, Florida, wave small flags in support of warriors.
Participants in Wounded Warrior Project's Carry Forward event in Jacksonville, Florida, wave small flags in support of warriors.

There’s probably no bigger symbol for patriotism in the U.S. than the American flag. We pledge our allegiance to it at school, government meetings, and citizenship ceremonies. We wave the symbol of freedom and liberty at parades and sporting events and even planted it on the moon.

When it comes to the U.S. Armed Forces, the flag can carry even more reverence. It’s displayed on military uniforms, flown over military bases, carried into battle, and draped over the coffins of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The U.S. flag represents the people and ideals service men and women are fighting for and defending.

June is a special time to honor the U.S. flag as a symbol of America. The week of June 11-17 is Flag Week, with Flag Day falling on June 14, which commemorates the date in 1777 that the Continental Congress approved the design of a national flag.

The history of the U.S. flag is vast and fascinating. But there are also important guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to the flag and how it’s displayed and cared for. The Federal Flag Code specifies rules for displaying and handling the U.S. flag. Here is some information to help you know the proper procedures:  

How to properly fold the U.S. flag

  • Fold the lower striped section of the flag over the blue field.
  • Folded edge is then folded over to meet the open edge.
  • A triangular fold is then started by bringing the striped corner of the folded edge to the open edge.
  • Outer point is then turned inward parallel with the open edge to form a second triangle.
  • Triangular folding is continued until the entire length of the flag is folded in the triangular shape with only the blue field visible (a total of 13 folds).

This visual diagram shows the correct step-by-step method of how to fold the U.S. flag.

Folding the flag properly isn’t just a formality. At many military events and for many people, each of the 13 folds has a special meaning.

Members of the military properly fold the U.S. flag.
Members of the military properly fold the U.S. flag.

What the folds mean

  1. The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
  2. The second fold signifies our belief in eternal life.
  3. The third fold is made in honor and tribute of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace.
  4. The fourth fold exemplifies our weaker nature as citizens trusting in God; it is to Him we turn for His divine guidance.
  5. The fifth fold is an acknowledgment 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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 enemies.
  8. 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.
  9. The ninth fold is an honor to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
  10. The 10th fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first-born.
  11. The 11th 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.
  12. The 12th fold represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.
  13. The last fold, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

Displaying the U.S. flag

When it comes to displaying the flag, there are rules about that as well, as outlined in the U.S. National Flag Code, which became public law in 1942.

Here are some general rules for the proper display of the U.S. flag:

  • The flag should only be displayed in public from sunrise to sunset. However, it may be displayed at all times if illuminated.
  • The flag should not be displayed during rain, snow, and windstorms unless it is an all-weather flag.
  • The flag should be displayed on national and state holidays and during special occasions.
  • In a group of flags displayed from staffs, the U.S. flag should be at the center and the highest point.
  • When the U.S. flag is displayed other than from a staff, it should be displayed flat, or suspended so that its folds fall free.
  • When flags of states, cities, or organizations are flown on the same staff, the U.S. flag must be at the top (except during church services conducted at sea by Navy chaplains)
  • On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon.

Here are some things NOT to do when displaying the U.S. flag:

  • The flag should never be draped or drawn back in folds.
  • Do not dip (lower briefly) it for any person or thing, even though state flags, regimental colors, and other flags may be dipped as a mark of honor.
  • Do not let the flag touch anything beneath it, including the ground, floor, or merchandise.
  • Do not place anything on the flag, including letters, insignia, or designs of any kind.
  • Do not use it as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.
  • The flag should not be used on a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be attached to the uniform of patriotic organizations, military personnel, police officers, and firefighters.
  • Do not use the flag for advertising or promotion purposes or print it on paper napkins, boxes, or anything else intended for temporary use and discard.

American Flag Q&As

Now that we know the proper way to display, care for, and put away the flag, there are also plenty of interesting and surprising aspects in the history and background of the U.S. flag. Do you know who designed it, or why it has the colors it does? Here are some answers to those questions and more.

Who made the first American flag? The most common answer is Betsy Ross, but that hasn’t exactly been proven. It wasn’t until 1870, nearly a century after the first flag was introduced, that Betsy Ross’ grandson credited her with making it. The claim held some validity because Ross did sew flags during that time, but there’s no actual proof she made the first American flag other than her family’s claims. Many historians credit Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, with designing the first U.S. flag by modifying the old Continental flag.

What do the flag colors represent? We know it’s red, white, and blue, but have you ever wondered why? Actually, when the U.S. flag was first presented in 1777, there was no official meaning behind the colors. However, in 1782, when Secretary of the Continental Congress Charles Thomson discussed the design of the Great Seal of the United States, he assigned meaning to the red, white, and blue color schemes, which are also the colors of the U.S. flag. The descriptions were:

  • Red: valor and bravery.
  • White: purity and innocence.
  • Blue: vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

What do the stars and stripes mean? The flag’s 13 alternating red and white stripes represent the 13 original colonies. Its 50 white stars on a blue field represent the 50 states.

How many versions of the flag have there been? Believe it or not, there have been 27 variations of the U.S. flag. Most of the changes came in relation to the number of stars added, representing the states joining the U.S. The original 13 stars lasted from 1977 to 1795. The flag’s last change was on July 4, 1960, to add Hawaii, which became the 50th state on Aug. 21, 1959.

What is the history of Flag Day? While honoring the flag dates back to the origination of the flag on June 14, 1777, an actual observance for a day of tribute to the symbol of patriotism wasn’t made official until Aug. 3, 1949, when Flag Day was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Harry Truman.

Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations,, 904.570.7910

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