The American flag consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red (top and bottom) alternating with white, with a blue rectangle in the canton (referred to specifically as the "union") bearing fifty small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars (top and bottom) alternating with rows of five stars. The fifty stars on the flag represent the 50 states and the 13 stripes represent the original thirteen colonies that rebelled against the British monarchy and became the first states in the Union.
The United States Flag Code outlines certain guidelines for the use, display, and disposal of the flag. For example, the flag should never be dipped to any person or thing, unless it is the ensign responding to a salute from a ship of a foreign nation. (This tradition may come from the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, where countries were asked to dip their flag to King Edward VII: the American flag bearer did not. Team captain Martin Sheridan is famously quoted as saying "this flag dips to no earthly king", though the true provenance of this quotation is unclear.)
The flag should never be allowed to touch the ground and, if flown at night, must be illuminated. If the edges become tattered through wear, the flag should be repaired or replaced. When a flag is so tattered that it can no longer serve as a symbol of the United States, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning. The American Legion and other organizations regularly conduct flag-burning ceremonies, often on Flag Day, June 14. It is a common myth that if a flag touches the ground or becomes soiled, it must be burned as well. While a flag that is currently touching the ground and a soiled flag are unfit for display, neither situation is permanent and thus the flag does not need to be burned if the unfit situation is remedied.
Significantly, the Flag Code prohibits using the flag "for any advertising purpose" and also states that the flag "should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use". Both of these codes are generally ignored, almost always without comment.
One of the most commonly ignored and misunderstood aspects of the Flag Code is section 8. "The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery." Section 3 of the Flag Code defines a flag for the purposes of the code. It clarifies the definition to include any picture or representation of the flag purporting to be of the flag of the United States of America. Therefore T-shirts, or other apparel made of or containing a representation of the flag are in violation of the code.
To me the flag is a symbol of our freedom, and a reminder of all of those who fought to give us that freedom. It is a symbol of the responsibility that we all have to keep alive the spirit of the United States of America.