The Meaning of the Flag-Draped Coffin

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When I was almost 14 years old, I watched, as the flag of my brother’s coffin was folded and presented to my mother; an image which seared itself into the very depths of my soul, and one I have revisited in my thoughts many, many times throughout the years.

For those who have never had the honor or privilege of attending a military funeral, I can not adequately express how beautiful, sacred, and honorable the ceremonial traditions and customs of the United States Military are. Our service men and women are truly the world’s finest. (If you would like to see a movie that clearly depicts the respect and honor with which a service member who has died on active duty is treated upon his/her escort home, then watch “Taking Chance” with actor Kevin Bacon…a true story…and one you will not forget.)

I felt compelled to share the following because I think that many in the world (and even our own nation and government) have forgotten the Christian principles on which the United States of America was founded.

After learning more about the beautiful tradition of “The Flag that Drapes the Coffin”) I am once again going back in time to the young men who laid the folded flag in the arms of my mother, and I am so thankful…so honored…so proud…and so blessed to be an American citizen.

I will be sharing this lesson with my children in our classes this morning. I invite you to share it with your family today, as well: (The words below are not my own, but were passed on to me by a friend):

Meaning of Flag Draped Coffin:

Our founding fathers used God’s Word and teachings to establish our great nation.

Pass it along and be proud of the country we live in and even more proud of those who serve to protect our ‘GOD GIVEN’ rights and freedoms.
I  hope you take the time to read this … to understand what the flag draped coffin really means …
Do you know that at military funerals, the 21-gun salute stands for the sum of the numbers in the year 1776?
Have you ever noticed the honor guard pays meticulous attention to correctly folding the United States of America Flag 13 times?  You probably thought it was to symbolize the original 13 colonies, but we learn something new every day!

The 1st fold of the flag is a symbol of life.

The 2nd fold is a symbol of the belief in eternal life.

The 3rd fold is made in 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.

The 4th fold represents the weaker nature, for 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.

The 5th fold is 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.’

The 6th fold is for 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.

The 7th fold is 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.

The 8th 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.

The 9th fold is 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.

The 10th fold is 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.

The 11th fold represents 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.

The 12th fold represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in the Christians eyes, God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.

The 13th fold, or when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding them of their Nations 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 them the rights, privileges and freedoms they enjoy today.
There are some traditions and ways of doing things that have deep meaning.

In the future, you’ll see flags folded and now you will know why.

Copyright 2011 Judy Dudich

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10 Comments

  1. Thank you, Dianna. I was equally moved in learning the depth of meaning and the beauty of the ceremony. I am glad you enjoyed this article, as well.

  2. This is a beautiful story, and truth is in its heart, but it is not truth in fact, according to the USAF:

    “Individuals who hear those scripts end up attributing the contents of the script to the U.S. Air Force. But the reality is that neither Congress, nor federal laws related to the flag, assign any special meaning to the individual folds.”
    — from story by Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez., Air Force Print News
    http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?storyID=123011364 (2005)

  3. After sharing this article with you, I did some further digging; prompted by a comment that this ceremonial meaning attached to the folds of the flag was erroneous.

    I have discovered two pertinent pieces of information.

    One, the above claim that the gun salute signifies the sum of the digits in the year 1776 is not proven.

    Two, while the meanings of the folds are not part of the official Flag Code of the USA, it they ARE part of one of several unofficial scripts which are often recited during the folding of the flag at military ceremonies and funerals.
    Therefore, I still feel it viable to share and to appreciate this beautiful meaning and ceremony attributed to the flag’s folding. There are those who do not like its usage because of its religious undertone. There are others who appreciate that part of it the most since it reflects the principles on which our nation was founded.
    In closing, this is a permitted, while not officially written ceremony attributing meaning to the thirteen folds of the flag:
    http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/f/foldsoftheflag.htm
    http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/f/foldsoftheflag.htm

  4. Oops…sorry…meant to write “is disproven” rather than “not” proven…meaning, that it is NOT the meaning of the gun salute.

  5. So as to put this issue to rest, I would like to also submit the following on line news article and it makes everything all the more clear. It would seem that this onslaught and complaint against this unofficial and beautiful ceremony was made in the vein of political correctness, which, as we know, has tried (often successfully) to do away with time honored traditions and customs that involve the faith of our founding Fathers:
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,306186,00.html
    I find that very sad.

  6. And thanks for your comment Nicole. It’s good that we can all help one another to get to “the heart” of a story:) Thanks for visiting my column on Lisa’s great site here at CatholicMom.com!

  7. Tashina Caputo on

    I have experienced a few of these ceremonies myself. They are very touching and memorable. If I understood correctly though, the most recent funeral I attended was my grandfathers, and I was told that it had become difficult to find soldiers or veterans to participate in such ceremony. Is this accurate?

  8. Shina! How nice of you to visit me here at CatholicMom.com!
    I think that it is not so much that soldiers and veterans are unwilling to participate as much as it is that they are being forbidden by the ban mentioned in the above linked-articles.
    It must have been very beautiful to be a part of this ceremony.
    I did not realize your grandfather had passed away. I’m so sorry to hear that.
    Much love to you and Vince and thanks for stopping by!

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