Military Funerals & Meaning of 13 Folds

These are the meanings ascribed to each fold as our Flag is folded:


The first fold of our Flag is a symbol of life.

The second fold is a symbol of our belief in eternal life.

The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veterans departing our ranks who gave a portion of their lives for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.

The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in time 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 into 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, their love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great has been molded.

The tenth fold is a tribute to the 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 Spirit.

The thirteenth fold: When the Flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding us of our Nation’s motto, “In God We Trust.”

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.


A United States flag drapes the casket of deceased veterans to honor the memory of their service to America. The flag is placed so that the blue field with stars is at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased.

The folded flag is then presented as a keepsake to the next of kin or an appropriate family member. Each branch of the Armed Forces uses its own wording for the presentation …

U.S. Air Force: “On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of (Service Member’s rank and name).”

U.S. Army: “This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

U.S. Coast Guard: “On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to Country and the Coast Guard.”

U.S. Marine Corps: “On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to Country and Corps.”

U.S. Navy: “On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to this Country and a grateful Navy.”

If the next of kin has expressed a religious preference or belief, add: “God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America.”


After an American flag has been used for a Military or Veterans funeral, it should never be flown again or displayed in any other way than in the tri-fold shape in which it was presented to the next of kin. In other words, the folded flag should never be “opened” again. There are many appropriate display cases available for purchase to display the burial flag and to protect it from wear and fading.


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32 Responses to “Military Funerals & Meaning of 13 Folds”

  1. Rifleman III Says:

    Excellent post, Colonel.

  2. Kenneth Hunt Says:

    Very informative post. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Bill Says:

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  4. Martha Rhea Says:

    Thanks to all who have made it possible for us to be free, may God bless America with leadership that honors these men and women.

  5. Nella Grace Krager Says:

    Could you post the meaning of the 21 gun salute and the meaning behind the empty shell being placed in the folds of the flag.

  6. genemcvay Says:

    The 21 gun salute evolved through the centuries. It is interesting that the numbers 1 7 7 6 add up to 21.

    The use of gun salutes for military occasions is traced to early warriors who demonstrated their peaceful intentions by placing their weapons in a position that rendered them ineffective. Apparently this custom was universal, with the specific act varying with time and place, depending on the weapons being used. A North African tribe, for example, trailed the points of their spears on the ground to indicate that they did not mean to be hostile.

    The tradition of rendering a salute by cannon originated in the 14th century as firearms and cannons came into use. Since these early devices contained only one projectile, discharging them once rendered them ineffective. Originally warships fired seven-gun salutes–the number seven probably selected because of its astrological and Biblical significance. Seven planets had been identified and the phases of the moon changed every seven days. The Bible states that God rested on the seventh day after Creation, that every seventh year was sabbatical and that the seven times seventh year ushered in the Jubilee year.

    Land batteries, having a greater supply of gunpowder, were able to fire three guns for every shot fired afloat, hence the salute by shore batteries was 21 guns. The multiple of three probably was chosen because of the mystical significance of the number three in many ancient civilizations. Early gunpowder, composed mainly of sodium nitrate, spoiled easily at sea, but could be kept cooler and drier in land magazines. When potassium nitrate improved the quality of gunpowder, ships at sea adopted the salute of 21 guns.

    The 21-gun salute became the highest honor a nation rendered. Varying customs among the maritime powers led to confusion in saluting and return of salutes. Great Britain, the world’s preeminent seapower in the 18th and 19th centuries, compelled weaker nations to salute first, and for a time monarchies received more guns than did republics. Eventually, by agreement, the international salute was established at 21 guns, although the United States did not agree on this procedure until August 1875.

    The gun salute system of the United States has changed considerably over the years. In 1810, the “national salute” was defined by the War Department as equal to the number of states in the Union–at that time 17. This salute was fired by all U.S. military installations at 1:00 p.m. (later at noon) on Independence Day. The President also received a salute equal to the number of states whenever he visited a military installation.

    In 1842, the Presidential salute was formally established at 21 guns. In 1890, regulations designated the “national salute” as 21 guns and redesignated the traditional Independence Day salute, the “Salute to the Union,” equal to the number of states. Fifty guns are also fired on all military installations equipped to do so at the close of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.

    Today the national salute of 21 guns is fired in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the President, ex-President and President-elect of the United States. It is also fired at noon of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.

    Gun salutes are also rendered to other military and civilian leaders of this and other nations. The number of guns is based on their protocol rank. These salutes are always in odd numbers.

  7. genemcvay Says:

    Placing shell casings inside a U.S. burial flag is a tribute to the deceased veteran, honoring their memory and service. As with all aspects of a military funeral, the Honor Guard must follow the protocol of the ritual exactly.

    During a military funeral, seven members of the U.S. Honor Guard fire M-1 rifles in three volleys consisting of 21 rounds. This is not a 21-gun salute, which has other symbolic meaning in the military. Instead, the firing of rifles in this way is an honor reserved for military funerals that hearkens back to an old custom when soldiers from both sides of the battle used to take breaks to collect their deceased. They used to signal the enemy that they were finished clearing the dead from the field by firing three volleys.

  8. Darryl Williams Says:

    Great post, should be taught in schools, yes

  9. Elaine Allen Says:

    I’m so glad to know this !

  10. Vicki Jackson Says:

    My husband received his last salute 6-19-15 and I hold his flag with great appreciation to all who served in the armed forces.

  11. Jennifer Hockley Says:

    I am blessed to say that we have my grandfather’s flag and my father’s flag. Thank you for sharing the significance of the folds, as it brings even more meaning to how special these flags are. We are a patriotic family, but more importantly we are a family that rely on our belief in Christ; because of this we know that we will see my sweet Daddy and wonderful Grandpa in Heaven someday. Again, thank you for this beautiful post, and for your service to this great Nation!

  12. Michael Hurtt Says:

    Great way to start Memorial Day weekend!

  13. Barbara Aldaco Says:

    Beautiful explanation. I wasnt aware of this.

  14. Margaret Says:

    My 28 year old son received his last salute 3/21/15, and his flag and his great grandfather flag are displayed side by side. I appreciate all who serve in our armed forces.

  15. Anita Ruth Madison Says:

    I’m very proud to say that my Great Grandfather served in the Civil War, my father in World War I, my husband in World War II and my son in Vietnam conflict. I’m proud to have my husbands flag which he received on March 3, 2011. I didn’t realize it should never be unfolded. It is in the triangle case and intend to leave it there.

  16. Evelyn Hart Says:

    My dad was in the Korean War . He was very proud to have served in the United States Army . He passed away on April 22, 1996 . I never knew what the folding of the flag actually meant . I didn’t even know that there was 13 folds in the flag . Thank You for sharing what each fold stood for . My dad did have a Military funeral with the 21 gun salute , he would have been very proud ! Thank you all for making all of this possible , in honor of my DAD . GOD BLESS AMERICA !!!

  17. Kelly Groves Says:

    Thats another reason to keep God involved in our everyday lives…God has been there, God is there and will always be there! GOD Bless this country and ALL that have made that commentment to fight for this country!

  18. John S. Pierce Says:

    I am a member of the American Legion Honor Guard and we do military honors at the funeral of veterans quite often. Actually the rifle salute at a military funere is not a 21 gun salute. it is done by an odd number of rifles, either 3, 5 or 7, and is a volley of 3 shots. The 21 gun salute is a National Salute. It is reserved for National purposes. The Volley of 3 is what is normally fired at a military funeral. This does not mean that there is any less dignity in the Volleyof 3. It is a high degree of respect.

  19. Kenneth Dean Says:

    I never knew this about our flag,
    I think they should teach this in schools

  20. Peggy Wheeler Says:

    God Bless you I did not know all this before I just love it all
    How do you think the kids in school would do with this.
    Sad to say I bet they do not know.
    I did not know about the folding of the Flag I lost my Husband Dec.14-15 My Husband was a Navy Man 26 years and proud of it.
    God Bless U.S. A.

  21. Wanda Henry Says:

    I never knew anything about the folding of the flag & I’m quite sure the younger generation, especially school children do not. God bless you for sharing this.

    • genemcvay Says:

      We must take the responsibility to teach our children many things about America. After graduating from high school, too many graduates have a negative opinion of THEIR own Country.

  22. jeffrey andrews Says:

    An excellent and very informative article.Thank you,Gene,and all who serve our great republic! I’m sure that you have no control over the Ads at the end of this publication,but I could’ve done without the”I’m a Hillary Voter” ad witch accompanied THIS one! (and BTW; I didn’t misspell that word!)

  23. Lindsey Finfrock Says:

    Thank you for sharing. I always longed to be a US Navy girl but due to health reasons was unable to join. I am however a very proud woman of my father who served in the Navy, my brother who served in the Air Force, an uncle who served in the Marines and Grandfather who served in the Army and fought during WWII. I have great respect for all the men and women who serve our country and am extremely impressed every time I watch a military funeral.

  24. Gail Steltenpohl Says:

    Thank you for posting this. No one knows the real meaning of these words until they have sat at a grave site and had this beautiful flag placed into their hands. You don’t want to let it go, you press it to your heart because it was the last thing that covered your love one. The young military men and women who goes through the flag ceremony and so gently hands you the flag ,must endure grief daily. I thank you.

  25. Carol Mcclanahan Says:

    Receiving one of these flags and reading the meanings and hearing the words said by the officers I could not be more proud of my husband and grateful for his duty. Thank you for this article it is very touching.

  26. Betty Sharpe Says:

    Thank you, my husband is a veteran (Vietnam war) and reading this meant the world to me, I used this as my topic for our Seniors in Action meeting as a lot of us were not aware of the meaning of why flags were folded this way, as we have seen done all our lives. I am very proud of my husband and grateful for all who have served our United States of America.

  27. J. Rich Says:

    Excellent review, AATW!

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