The Meaning Behind Military Flag Traditions
Whether it is the way that the flag is folded, or the manner in which it is flown, there are many notable military flag traditions, and each stems from an important moment in American history. Each member of the United States Military knows that to acknowledge these military flag traditions is also to give honor to the hard work and sacrifice that those before them made, in order that America might continue to be a free society.
One of the most significant military flag traditions is the manner in which the flag is folded. First, the flag must be held at waist length. Then, it is folded in half over the striped section, and folded again to where the blue field is showing. Finally, it is folded again and again in triangles, going from the right side to the left, until the entire flag becomes a triangle. This tradition dates back to shortly after the Revolutionary War. It is made into a triangle to remind soldiers of General George Washington, Captain John Paul Jones, and others in the Continental Army who wore a three cornered hat in order to show that they were in command. To many Christians who served with Washington and Jones, the triangle also symbolized the eternity of God.
Waving the flag at half staff when an officer has died is likewise one of the most important military flag traditions. The origins of this tradition are somewhat less than clear, and it was in use by other countries (particularly Germany) long before it came to America. It is known however that during the American Civil War, the Maine Company in the Union Army put it to use to mourn their departed. A century later, in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower extended its usage, allowing the flag to be flown at half mast on Memorial Day, and Veterans Day as well. Since 9/11, the flag has also flown at half staff on “Patriot Day” as well.
There are likewise military flag traditions when it comes to the flag’s disposal. For example, if a flag has become dirty, tattered, or faded, it cannot be thrown away, as this would be a sign of disrespect to the cause that it represents. Rather, it must be burned, as this is viewed by the military as a more dignified manner of disposal. This tradition dates back to America’s British roots, and the same practice is used in the United Kingdom today. This military flag tradition has also become an important one for the Boy Scouts of America, who collect tattered flags to be burned for merit badges.
Likewise, a flag can never be allowed to fall to the ground. This is one of the most important military flag traditions. To do otherwise would symbolize the republic for which it stands, which military servicemen have sworn to protect, also falling to the ground. This military flag tradition may have its roots in the War of 1812, dating back to when poet, Francis Scott Key admired how “as the dawn’s early light,” came to Fort McHenry, after a British attack the night before, the flag was still standing.
In the same manner, a flag can never be allowed to dip. This military flag tradition may have its roots in the 1908 Olympics, in London, when every other flag was placed in such a way to where it would “bow,” before King Edward VII, and the British Empire. The Americans however (standing alone) refused to place their flag where they were instructed to, and since it has become one of the most important military flag traditions.
The Pledge of Allegiance is arguably the single most important of military flag traditions. Written in 1892, by Boston Baptist minister, Francis Bellamy, he wanted to ensure that younger generations knew what it was to respect America, in the hopes of avoiding another Civil War. “I pledge allegiance to the flag,” it begins, “of the United States of America.”
That same year, President Benjamin Harrison recited the pledge for the first time. Since then, it has become a pledge taken by military members, members of Congress, school children, and almost everyone else in America. It is also, easily the most recognizable of military flag traditions. This may also be the most meaningful of military flag traditions for veterans of foreign wars. Remembering all that they went through in order to keep America safe, many can be seen with tears of joy as they pledge allegiance to it on patriotic days.
Military flag traditions are wide and varied, but there are at least a few common factors. Each military flag tradition is a symbol of the strength and fidelity of America. America will never surrender, the military flag traditions seem to say, it will never grow weary, and will never fade. The military flag traditions also point to America’s beauty, and how proud Americans can be of their country after 233 years of success.