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Wrongly folded flag from Congress

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The American Legion has a very good flag etiquette resource on their website. I thought I would ask them of their opinion on the subject. Here is their response...


Neal - Thanks for stopping by our website and your question. You are absolutely correct. The Flag Code does not mandate that the flag be folded. Tradition calls for it to be folded into a triangle. When you order a new flag from our Emblem Sales Division it comes in a rectangular box. Thanks for your patriotic concern. Sincerely, MICHAEL D. BUSS Deputy Director A/C&Y Division The American Legion 317/630-1206 317/630-1369 Fax www.legion.org


So if you order a flag from about the most patriotic organization in the US you will get it folded in a rectangle.

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They are always rectangle folded, it is faster to re-fold.

The Eagles in troop get to pick someone to help fold it triangular.

My son and his fellow eagles didn't get one at their recent ECOH. . . .


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Well, I guess you learn something everyday. I knew brand new flags were folded for shipping, and I know it is mill doing the flags everyone request. Again hats off to Comgressman Quayle on prompt reply and generous gift.


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As several people here have noted, there is nothing wrong with a flag folded in a rectangle. A flag folded into a triangle is not folded "right" it is just folded that way. There is no law or rule that governs folding a flag and the triangle fold is simply one way to do it that apparently originated in the military to symbolize a solemn occassion and has become the popular and traditional way to do it not the required way. More often that not, the flag is folded into a triangle because the people doing it don't know better and "know" it is the right way to do it without actually knowing teh history and reasons. Folding the flag into a triangle is simply a way to make a show of it and to make the process more complex so that it is more solemn and ceremonial. Flag retirement is also often misunderstood in the same way (I can't tell you how many times I have been breated for not cutting a flag up before retiring it!).


From United-States-Flag.com: The American Flag may be folded for a number of reasons. Since the Flag Code specifies that the flag should not be carried flat, folding the flag may be necessary for transportation, storage or display. The flag is also folded by members of the Armed Forces after it is lifted from a casket at a military funeral. It is then given to the next of kin.


The Flag Code does not specify how the flag should be folded, but a standard flag will require thirteen folds. To specify there should be two lengthwise folds and eleven triangular folds.


When folding the flag in this manner gained popularity, there wasn't a symbolic meaning associated with the folds. Through the years, the public has attributed meaning to each fold. Most of these meanings are religious, and all of them reflect the ideals of this country.



There is a lot of confusion about flag folding. So much so that Snopes even has a page. From Snopes: Origins: This item about the meanings of the folds in a flag reminds me of a joke told by deadpan comedian Steven Wright: "Why is the alphabet in that order? Is it because of that song?" As often happens, a "meaning" has been grafted onto some facet of everyday life, to the point that the symbolic, after the fact meaning has been confused with the original purpose.


Traditional flag etiquette prescribes that before an American flag is stored or presented, its handlers should twice fold it in half lengthwise; then (from the end opposite the blue field) make a triangular fold, continuing to fold it in triangles until the other end is reached. This makes a triangular "pillow" of the flag with only the blue starred field showing on the outside, and it takes thirteen folds to produce: two lengthwise folds and eleven triangular ones.


The American flag isn't folded in this manner because each of the folds has a special symbolic meaning; the flag is folded this way because it provides a dignified ceremonial touch that distinguishes folding a flag from folding an ordinary object such as a bedsheet, and because it results a visually pleasing, easy-to-handle shape. This thirteen-fold procedure was a common practice long before the creation of a ceremonial assignation of "meaning" to each of the steps.


An elaborate flag folding ceremony incorporating these meanings has since been devised for special occasions such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day. These associations are "real" in the sense that they mean something to the people who participate in the ceremony, but they are not the reason why a flag is folded in the traditional thirteen-step manner. As was the case with the candy cane an invented (religious) symbolism has become so widespread that it is now often mistakenly assumed to have been an integral part of the origins of the item it is associated with.


It is also a common misbelief that the above-quoted script originated with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and is used by default at all veterans' funerals conducted under the aegis of the U.S. military. This is not the case, as the USAF has noted:


Though there are no official ceremonies in the Air Force that require a script to be read when a flag is folded, unofficial ceremonies such as retirements often do, said Lt. Col. Samuel Hudspath, Air Force protocol chief.


"We have had a tradition within the Air Force of individuals requesting that a flag be folded, with words, at their retirement ceremony," he said.


There is no shortage of scripts available that can be read aloud during a flag folding, but many of those scripts are religious in nature and also ascribe meaning to the individual folds put into the flag. One of the oldest of those scripts is attributed to an anonymous chaplain at the U.S. Air Force Academy.


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.



Flag folding history:



By Rick W. Sturdevant

Deputy Command Historian

HQ Air Force Space Command

23 July 2003




I first was asked this question over a decade ago and I have been researching it ever since. Among the dozens of web sites devoted to the flag-folding ceremony, here is one [there used to be two but the other is now offline] worth perusing: http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/more/folds.htm. One of the first things you will notice is that the sites differ on the symbolic meaning of each fold. The latter site credits the USAF Academy with assigning symbolic significance to each fold [this can be found here: Original Flag Folding - 13 Folds of the US Flag].


As for the origin and significance of the triangular or "cocked hat" fold itself, several years ago I contacted a local flag expert who suggested that the triangular fold might have originated in the days of wooden sailing vessels. He explained that ships like the Constitution or Constellation would close with the enemy, waiting until the last minute to hoist the colors and "breaking" them at the peak. While it is true that many flag hoisting traditions around the globe have naval origins, most of these were eschewed by American revolutionaries at the country's founding. Traditionally, the US flag is never hoisted to the peak folded but, rather, flying freely in full view. Consequently, the naval "story," though often repeated, seems apocryphal. If it were true, why wouldn't other seafaring nations, especially Great Britain, have used a similar fold when their ships closed for combat?


The use of the triangular fold came much later than the 1770s. It seems the custom originated after the Spanish American War. We had gained far-flung Navy and Army bases, where it became customary to fly larger and larger flags. A need arose for folding the flag efficiently to facilitate hoisting the next morning. Before the evolution and adoption of the triangle fold each base, and ships, were free to fold the flag whatever way they wanted. The fold made handling large flags easier. By the early 1900s, both the Army and the Navy were using the triangular fold. After 1910 the Boy Scouts of America also popularized the practice. In addition, soldiers and sailors returning from WWI helped transfer the "military" fold to civilian use. At first, the fold simply was practical, but patriotic orators later added the symbolism of the cocked hat to pay homage to Revolutionary War soldiers. This symbolism was updated to include Revolutionary marines, even though they wore a hat with one side of the brim pinned "Aussie" style. Sailors during the American Revolution had to provide their own hats, which makes it conceivable that they, too, might have worn the cocked hat.

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I was a congressional intern. Part of my duties was handling flag requests for the Member of Congress. I submitted requests to fly flags, but was not involved in the actual flying of them.


Though some people have hit on it in passing, the important thing to note is that the flags come in a rectangular box. They are then removed from the box and flown. Following that, they are refolded and placed back into the box. If the flags were folded in a triangle, then the original packaging would have to be discarded and new packaging created. That or they'd have to get the flag manufacturers to fold flags in triangles. I don't see either option as terribly practical.



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Thanks Hawkrod. I can't stand the 13 fold "tradition" and how significant some think it is. I happen to think it's foolish and not well thought out, and I appreciated your comment regarding how the original purpose for something is changed over time to have some deep meaning.

Here's one that really ticks me off. The Wood badge staff guide now states that the only appropriate knot for beads is a simple overhand knot to remind one of doing a good turn daily (or some similar rubbish). When beads arrive from supply, they're a total mess. The alleged symbolic overhand knot is sloppy, loose, and, quite frankly, ugly. I would never present beads like that. The knot needs to be replaced, or at the very least, retied or tightend up. Somebody writing the syllabus and staff guide decided that the knot needed a meaning. What a crock. They're tied in an overhand knot for a reason similar to why firemen wears red suspenders. If they weren't tied in a knot, it would just be a long piece of leather shoelace with a bead at each end. Wouldn't stay around the neck very well.

Oh well. Thanks again for commenting on the deep symbolism associated with folds in our flag.



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Not really anything new, just wanted to share my story. When I recieved my Eagle in 2008, my father had requested a flag flown over the US Capitol without my knowing. As many have mentioned, out of convienence, it arrived folded rectangular to fit in the shipping box. During the court of honor, they surprised me by presenting me the flag and then they had my father come up and fold the flag with me as the master of ceremonies explained to the audience that when I was a Tiger cub, the first thing my father had taught me was how to fold the flag. This was the most memorable part of my court of honor and I will always treasure that flag.

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I am surprised that no one has questioned how much is spent to pay someone--or probably several someones--to raise and lower flags day in and day out so that congressmen have largely symbolic gifts to distribute to their constituents, donors etc. At a time when we as a people are talking about cutting defense, social security and medicare this seems to be a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.

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Hal - I'm guessing it's in the neighborhood of several tens of thousands of dollars - in other words, if it costs $100,000 per year, that's still only about 0.0025% of the amount of increase in national debt PER DAY. Or 0.000007% of the increase in national debt per year. Or about 3 cents per year, per person in the USA.


Unfortunately it's these kind of irrelevant issues that will continue to district us from fixing the real problems that you mentions - social security, medicare, defense, etc.

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I agree that the cost is infinitesimal but tell that to the politicians that promised to cut the waste in Washington and are hacking away at every program they see--particularly if it doesn't fit into their political ideology. There isn't a budget in Washington that is safe from the those that would rather give up food inspection and air traffic control rather than consider a tax increase for anyone. They constantly rail about waste in government and then order more flags. It's the hypocrisy that annoys me more than the cost.





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