When, Where and How to Refold a Flag

DrillMaster Honor Guard, Honor Guard Training, Instructional 10 Comments

A Badly folded flag
All across AmBad flag presentation - Copyerica folded American, state, territorial and tribal flags are presented to the next of kin (NOK) of fallen military and first responder veterans. Unfortunately, some of these flags are poorly folded and still handed off. I’ve witnessed a folded flag in the hands of a first responder who was sincerely trying to cover the large swath of red stripe by trying to jam the end of the flag into itself. It didn’t work and the family sat there waiting. Obviously, adequate training is necessary, but when training is not accomplished, issues arise that then need to be taken care of on the spot or immediately afterwards.

The picture at right shows the folded flag from the funeral of the last Seminole Code Talker, Private First Class and Congressional Gold Medal recipient Edmond Andrew Harjo. This should never have happened. This flag needs to be refolded.

What to do?
As I stated, training is paramount, but let’s say training is accomplished for a couple of hours the day before the funeral and the folders don’t catch the last fold that goes too far toward the edge, barely leaving enough to tuck. While it would have been best to back out the last triangle fold and then tuck from there, if the tuck has already started, do your best and refold the flag after the ceremony.

On a side note: When I was training firefighters in the south in 2013, during one of the training sessions, the trainees actually had an Army veteran and firefighter retiree funeral to attend. The firefighters moved the casket and the veteran’s groups folded the flag and also fired the 3-Volley Salute. Regrettably, not only was the flag folded poorly, but it was also presented inside a plastic flag case to the widow. The flag should never have been cased before presenting it to the widow and my honor guard trainees could tell the flag was poorly folded and here is what we did.

One of my trainees, an honor guard member, went to the firefighter who was the family liaison and requested the flag at the widow’s earliest convenience for refolding. Before we knew it the liaison had discreetly asked for, retrieved and presented the flag to my trainee who handed it to me. Since we had not gone into pall bearers and flag folding in the course yet, I used the opportunity to begin teaching how to fold the flag. We went behind the small building where the service was held, which was completely out of the family’s and even the public’s view, unfolded the flag when we discovered three shells from the firing party that had been tucked into the flag (this is a no=no! The flag is not to be used a receptacle!), refolded the flag and handed the flag and shells back to the family. We would have handed them to the liaison, but the family was more than appreciative of what we had accomplished for them.

How to fold our National Ensign
There are a few flag fold videos on YouTube, but the ones for the two-man fold are all severely lacking- one even shows the flag being folded backwards- and that’s a flag company’s video.

How to fold the American flag with two people

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How to fold the American flag with six people

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Handing off a folded flag
Point- or flat side-first? Just like holding a folded flag, there is no “correct” way. Just like when carrying a folded American flag point-up or point-down does not matter. While the military services have handed the flag to the NOK using both methods, I have some guidance that may be of help. Many times the family is in much grief and the NOK who receives that folded flag will hold on to it for dear life. It is easier to hold when the long flat end is at the abdomen.

honor guard, pall bearers, flag fold, american flag

Comments 10

  1. Thank you very much. I recently received a burial flag from my husbands funeral. The flag was poorly folded, and I’ve been wanting to have it refolded. I’ve decided to allow the JROTC at Houston County High School, in Warner Robins, GA (where I work) to do the refolding. The commander has enthusiastically agreed, and I’m sure she has information. However, I found a good website, sponsored by the American Legion, that shows how to fold the flag and explains the meaning of each fold. I thought it might make a good precursor to the actual folding.

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      Author

      Hello Lisa,

      I’m very sorry for your loss. Having JROTC cadets refold is a great way to educate everyone involved and provide a better memory for you.

      Officially, the folds have no meaning whatsoever, meaning was given to each fold during WWII. That meaning was used, unofficially, for 60+ years, but has been generally discontinued.

      You may want to have the cadets view my video of how to fold the American flag entitled, Two-man Flag Fold Detailed Techniques, at my YouTube channel, John DrillMaster Marshall.

      Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

      1. Thank you for this information. My father was buried with an Honor Guard and while the ceremony was quite moving, the flag is not properly folded. The stars are crooked and being a former military member myself, this has really bothered me since the funeral. I may approach our local ROTC division and ask them if they will honor my father by refolding the flag if they can do it properly.

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          Author
  2. My grandfather, a World War Two veteran recently passed away, and the flag is poorly folded you can see the white and red on the corners. Is there anyone that I could contact who could refold it for my family properly? Maybe a local VFW post?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Julie,

      Thank you for contacting me. I’m sorry for your loss. My thanks to your grandfather and his family for their sacrifices.

      My suggestion is to find a local high school JROTC unit or see if the local police or fire department has an honor guard. Anyone in these organizations will want to help you and make things right for you and your family.

  3. Have you ever known of a flag being recorded 3 times? It was at a well attended military funeral. The family accepted the explanation from the Army that the flag was not sewed right, misshapen. Myself a veteran and other veterans viewing knew everytime that the detail was not tightening, smoothing edges and keeping the material taunt.
    I also saw shells tucked in. I know it’s been 30 years since I folded the flag as a member of a detail, but we were strictly told to not put the shells in the flag but to hand them to the family afterwards.
    To me, it would have been less embarrassing to the detail and confusing to onlookers if the flag had been refolded afterwards. Especially with a tv crew there and large crowd since it was a Korean War hero.
    What do you think.

    1. Post
      Author

      Ms. Cates,

      Thank you for the note. Three times to refold? It sounds as if the flag folding team needs a great deal more training and practice. That’s unacceptable to refold in front of the family. You fold it and hand it to the family, regardless of how poor a job you did. After the service, you approach the family and request to refold it out of sight.
      Aa for the shells, the Flag Code specifically states that the flag is not a receptacle. Nothing is placed in or on a flag. You are correct, the shells are handed to the family, separate from the flag.

  4. On the topic of presenting folded flags, I have participated in two recent LODDs where there were additional flags presented to various family members, in addition to the casket flag which was folded and presented first.

    I noted that there is an accommodation for such situations mentioned in the Army Drill & Ceremonies Manual (TC 3-21.5, Ch. 14, at the very end of Section II), and understand from previous posts that there is only one flag to be folded at a funeral, with the others to be folded ahead of time, but presented after the initial flag is folded and given to family.

    I was curious if there is any additional guidance or custom for how many flags could/should be presented, outside of the wishes of the family? One of the recent LODDs had the Honor Guard presenting flags to the widow, all adult children & all grandchildren present. If that is the family’s wishes, I know we are happy to accommodate, but is there guidance we should be offering when we reach that point of discussion, during the planning portion?

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      Author

      Sir,

      This is a great question. The US government supplies one flag for the NOK and if the family chooses to have more presented, they must pay for those flags.
      One veteran, one flag should suffice, especially after I’ve seen many, many interment flags in thrift stores. Many family members don’t know what to do with the one flag that was folded and presented for uncle Joe who served in WWII, handing out more flags like candy reduces the specialness of the flag and increases the likelihood of the flag(s) ending up in being given away since they no longer hold any meaning.
      I suggest that honor guards seriously consider adding this to the information provided for the family and I encourage families to hold that one special flag in high regard.

      DM

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