Weekly Features

Historically Speaking–The American Flag


(Meaning behind the 13 folds)

   As most Doddridge Countians know this past Sunday, June 14th was officially the day to honor our great American Flag.  I thought with today’s environment, we could all use a little nostalgia.  So, I want to explain a small portion of the history of our great flag. 

   You might not know that Flag Day was credited to have been the idea promoted in 1886 by a schoolteacher named Bernard Cigrand, who taught in Stony Hill Grade School at Waubeka, WI.  Cigrand began honoring the American Flag on June 14th to commemorate the adoption of the flag.  He later became a dentist and continued to rally attention to the American flag throughout his life. 

   Inspired by Cigrand’s actions, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14th to be Flag Day.  (Although the day was not officially established until an Act of Congress approved it in 1949.)

   As I previously stated, Flag Day recognizes the day that America adopted our symbol of freedom, hope, and equal opportunity.  Call her “Ole Glory”, “Stars and Stripes”, “Stars and Bars”, “Star- Spangled Banner”, or “Grand Old Flag,” the American flag is perhaps the single, most important national symbol we as a nation possess.

   Another fact you might not have known is that everything about this proud banner that most Americans hold so dear is by design a symbol to remind each of us that this flag belongs to the people and the right and the honor to fly it high was paid for with the blood shed by the untold number of soldiers, police, and fireman over the years.

   Let me explain her story:

   If you count the stripes, you will find 13 of them (7 red and 6 white), one for each of the 13 original colonies which gave birth to our great nation.  

   There are 50 stars against a field of blue.  The number of stars has changed through the years.  A new star was added to represent each new state added to our union.  The 50-star flag that we know today was approved on July 4, 1960, after Hawaii became the fiftieth and final state added to the United States.

   Did you ever wonder why our flag is red, white, and blue?  Why would we take the colors of the government we had just fought a bloody war from which to free ourselves.  Although some say the colors were not given significance until after the design, other historians believe the colors were chosen as a reminder of what America stands for then and now.  The red in our flag represents the hardiness and valor of its people.  The white symbolizes purity and innocence and blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

   Are there guidelines regarding when and how to fly the flag?  Good question and yes, there are guidelines though many do not adhere to them. Our flag is recommended to be displayed from sunrise to sunset.  It should be raised quickly and lowered gently and ceremoniously. It should be displayed daily and especially on holidays.  It should be lowered and removed during inclement weather.  It should never be tipped toward any person or object, nor should it touch anything beneath it, and absolutely should never touch the ground.

   Should the American flag be displayed flat against a wall or a window, or in a vertical orientation, the blue field of stars should always be uppermost and to the left of the observer.

   If you ever watched as the American flag was being folded, you might wonder why it is folded in such a manner and why is that so important.       Let me explain each fold:

   1st fold is folded from the stripe’s sides toward the star’s side.  It represents the symbol of life.

    2nd fold signifies our belief in that eternal life.

   3rd fold is made in honor and pay tribute to the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace.

   4th fold exemplifies our weaker nature as citizens trusting in God; it is to Him we turn for His divine guidance.

   5th fold is an acknowledgment 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.”

   6th fold is for where our hearts lie.  It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the USA, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

   7th 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, foreign and domestic.

   8th fold is a tribute to the one who entered 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.

   9th fold is an honor to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded. 

   10th fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first-born.

   11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, 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.

   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 Holy Ghost.

    13th and final fold, results in the flag being completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”   (When folded, the stars on a field of blue is all that should be visible.)  Perhaps, this explanation will bring new meaning each time we see that folded flag.

   Next, might I ask during your next parade, notice that quiet individual standing at attention and placing his/her hand over his/her heart, or proudly saluting it as it passed by.  He or she will be there and there’s a good chance that he/she might have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.    

   Their love for the precious flag is always apparent as they remember their fellow soldiers who fought and, in many cases, died defending it.     Do not tell them that the flag is just a piece of material…  Knowing eyes that only a soldier can possess will tell you that they know different…  This flag is sacred… It is the people’s flag.  

   I must end this week’s article by telling you of an experience I had with a British friend while I was visiting them in London, England a few years ago.

   We were eating dinner and were engaged in friendly conversation in Oxford, England when one of them asked, “What is this thing with you Yanks about your American Flag?  You fly them on every street corner and nearly every home.  It’s like you’re obsessed with it or something.”  

He wasn’t being disrespectful.  He was merely curious, and I was all too happy to explain the “obsession” we Americans have with our flag.    

   “Pete,” I said.  “Your flag is the flag of the British government, the Queen’s flag, so to speak.  You respect it and you should.  However, our American Flag is the flag of the people.  Said to have been sewn together by a local seamstress named Betsy Ross of Philadelphia in June 1776.  It doesn’t belong to the American government, nor does it belong to me.  It belongs to each one of us, it belongs to all of us.   Our Constitution doesn’t say, “we the king” or “we the queen.”  It says, “we the people.”    Our grandparents, parents, husbands/wives, brothers/sisters, and sons and daughters fought, bled, and died for OUR flag.  The very least we can do is remember why they did that… They did that to ensure we, the American people, remain free to be whatever we want to be as long as we are willing to work for it and not infringe on the rights of others to do that same.”

    Pete looked to be deep in thought for a few seconds and then said, “That makes sense.  I think I understand it now.  It’s the togetherness as one people, not one government, that you are so connected to and proud of.  Thanks for not being offended and explaining that way.”  

   I pray that our “togetherness” can remain tightly knitted as we go through these troubled times.

God Bless the American People

 Patricia Richards Harris

Doddridge County Historical Society