Honoring the flag: The meaning behind the 13 folds of Old Glory

At the Flag Day ceremony in Wadena, Boy Scouts folded the American flag, a ceremony in itself with an abundance of meaning.

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Veteran Roger Bahls demonstrates the folding of the American flag with Boy Scouts Kyle Hillesland, right, and Wyatt Helmbrecht, of the New York Mills Troop 54.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

WADENA — The annual Flag Day ceremony in Wadena's Veterans Park was marked with patriotic music, veterans displaying where they served, American history and above all, waving American flags on June 14.
Behind those flags are so many stories, so much history and an often untold meaning.
Elks Lodge member Dan Sartell presented on the history of the American flag.
“Our flag is at once a history, a declaration and a prophecy. It represents the American nation as it was at its birth; it speaks for what it is today; and it holds the opportunity for the future to add other stars to the glorious constellation,” Sartell said, as reading from the Elk's Flag Day presentation.

The language is part of the Elk’s Ritual for Flag Day. According to their ritual, the Elks are the “first and only fraternal body to require formal observance of ‘Flag Day.’” The observance was made mandatory by the Grand Lodge of the Order at Dallas, Texas, in 1908.

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Dan Sartell shares a bit of flag history as part of the Flag Day ceremony in Wadena's Veteran's Park.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

The meaning of the flag is not forgotten by organizers who choose to share the meaning while working with youth from a local Boy Scout troop to fold an American flag before a captive audience.

So what's the meaning behind the 13 folds of the American flag? Here's how the National Flag Foundation and Sartell explain the meaning.


  1. The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
  2. The second fold is a symbol of our belief in eternal life.
  3. The third fold is made in honor and remembrance 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 throughout the world.
  4. The fourth fold represents our weaker nature; as American citizens trusting in God, it is Him we turn to in times of peace, as well as in times of war, for His divine guidance.
  5. The fifth fold is a tribute to our country. 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, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
  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 a tribute to womanhood. It has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that has molded the character of the men and women who have made this country great.
  10. The 10th fold is a tribute to father, who has also given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.
  11. The 11th fold represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies 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 13th and last fold, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, "In God We Trust."

A flag burning ceremony is typically a part of the evening, but due to high winds no flag burning took place. Those looking to retire non-serviceable flags can bring them to the Wadena VFW to have them properly disposed, according to Wadena VFW president Phil Thoennes. They also sell new flags. Those attending were greeted with refreshments and had an opportunity to take home small American flags.

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Wadena-Deer Creek band students prepare to perform during the Flag Day ceremony June 14 2022 in Wadena's Veterans Park.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in rural Deer Creek, Minn., where he is starting to homestead with his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
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