New York State Funeral Directors Association

Traditions of Old Glory

Our country's flag, affectionately called "Old Glory," is honored during the month of June. According to the Library of Congress' Web site, John Adams described the new nation's flag at a meeting of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia on June 14, 1777. He said "Resolved, that the flag of the thirteen United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation." The current version dates to July 4, 1960, when Hawaii became the 50th state.

The name "Old Glory" was coined by Captain Stephen Driver, a shipmaster of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1831. As he was leaving on a voyage, friends presented him with the United States flag. As the banner opened to the ocean breeze for the first time, he exclaimed "Old Glory!"

For much of our country's history, "Old Glory" has been associated with both land and sea battles, and eventually, ceremonies to honor war veterans. The flag is used to drape a deceased veteran's casket. The flag is usually presented to the veteran's widow or other next-of-kin at the graveside service.

When presenting the flag, the honor guard pays meticulous attention to the ceremony of folding it twelve times.

  • The first fold of the flag is a symbol of life.
  • The second fold is a symbol of belief in eternal life.
  • The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran who defended our country.
  • The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war.
  • The fifth fold is a tribute to our country.
  • The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie.
  • The seventh fold is a tribute to the armed forces.
  • The eighth fold is a tribute to those who entered into the valley of the shadow of death.
  • 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 10th fold is a tribute to the father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country.
  • The 11th 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 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

When the flag is completely folded, the stars should be uppermost as a reminder of our nation's motto, "In God We Trust." After all the folds are done, the flag should resemble a cocked hat reminding us of the soldiers who served in the Revolution under General George Washington; and the sailors and marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones. When preplanning or arranging for an honorably discharged veteran's funeral, survivors should ask their funeral director how a flag can be acquired for the funeral service and burial ceremony.

(Research material provided by Robert Mitchell, Director, Saratoga County Veterans Service Agency).