The United States Flag Code, Section 6(b) says:
The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
That is the entire text that refers to lowering the flag. Yes, Section 9 refers to our conduct during hoisting, lowering and passing of the flag, but 6(b) is the only reference to how the flag is lowered. Notice that it does not prescribe a way to fold the flag.
Where did the instructions come from—for folding the flag with thirteen folds, with the union and stars showing at the end? That’s a very good question. This particular myth causes more discussion than any other item relating to the U.S. flag. There is great debate over the origin, the scripts, and why it should be done.
The use of the trifold method presumably traces back to various historical events, depending on the person doing the tracing. Some say the origin started with WWI, some say the Revolutionary War, and some say even earlier. The fact is—we don’t know.
What we do know is that given the physical dimensions prescribed for the U.S. flag, it will neatly fold thirteen times when using the tri-fold method.
We know that the tri-fold currently is used for military funerals, and is conducted by the Honor Guard leading up to the presentation of the flag to the family. This folding ceremony is somber and respectfully silent.
We know that many scripts have been written for recitation during the flag folding ceremony. Some propose the thirteen folds are for the thirteen original colonies while others suggest a script written by an Air Force chaplain in the 1980s as the accepted script. Dozens of other scripts are available, or you can write one for your special occasion. Bottom line, there is no official script to recite when folding the flag, if you even fold the flag.
We know there are reasonable applications for folding the flag, so it is now used by all military branches and the Boy Scouts when the flag is lowered at the end of the day. From a practical stand point, it is a sensible and secure way of storing the flag, allowing a single person to hoist the flag at the beginning of the day.
The facts are not confusing at all. The flag is lowered ceremoniously … period. Anything else is extra, but allowed.