With the Fourth in July and all the parades and longer summer hours, we’ll be seeing a lot of Old Glory. Most people know that the stars stand for the 50 states and the 13 stripes for the colonies, but it’s good to brush up on some basic etiquette for displaying and handling the U.S. flag.
A very comprehensive list of rules, called the Flag Code, specifies the proper etiquette in all situations. Here are some highlights:
• The flag is considered a living thing. No part of the flag should touch the ground. When you take it down, you must be ready to catch and fold it properly.
• The flag must be illuminated if flown 24 hours a day.
• The only time you burn an American flag is when it can’t be fixed or if it dirty beyond cleaning. The flag must be burned in a dignified matter, as in a ceremony, typically conducted by veteran’s organizations or Elks Clubs. Boys Scouts frequently collect worn flags for proper disposal.
• Inside a church or auditorium, the flag should always be at the right of the speaker (viewer’s left). Any other flags should be placed on the left of the speaker.
The U.S. flag should be flown every day, weather permitting, but always on these days:
• Peace Officers Memorial Day on May 15 (sunrise to sunset)
• Memorial Day, last Monday in May (sunrise to noon)
• Patriot Day, Sept. 11 (sunrise to sunset)
• Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, Dec. 7 (sunrise to sunset)
Other Special Flag-Flying Days:
• President’s Day, third Monday in February. It is not a half-staff day.
• Flag Day, June 14. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States, which happened that day by resolution of the Second Continental Congress in 1777.
• Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11. Since this is a day of celebration to honor Veterans, you do not need to fly it at half-staff.
Flying the flag at Half Staff: Only the President and state governors can decide when and how long the American flag should be flown at half-staff. The length of time depends on the official it honors:
• Thirty days after the death of a president or former president;
• Ten days after the death of a U.S. vice president, the chief justice or retired chief justice, or speaker of the House of Representatives;
• Until the burial of an associate Supreme Court Justice; secretary of a military department; a former vice president, or the governor of a state, territory, or possession.
• On the day of and the day after the death of a member of Congress.
• On Memorial Day until noon; then raised to full staff.
• When the U.S. flag is at half staff, other flags should be removed or also flown at half staff. If the flag cannot be flown at half-staff, it’s customary to tie a black ribbon on the top of the pole.
More Flag Facts
• The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, drapery or in advertising. Its use as food decoration is frowned upon. Flag lapel pins are worn on the left lapel, over the heart. The flag should never be signed or written on. If the flag has a canvas border, you may autograph it there.
• The traditional bugle call for raising the flag is Reveille. Civilians lowering the flag play “Taps.” In the military, they play “Retreat,” then a gun is fired (if available), followed by the national anthem or “To The Color.” The Army plays “Taps” at funerals and as the last call of the night.
• No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the U.S. flag. When the flag is suspended across a corridor, lobby or street, it should be suspended vertically with the union of the flag to the observer’s left, or with the union pointing North.
Above all, the flag must always be treated with the utmost respect. To learn more about the evolution of the U.S. flag and see dates that different versions of the flag were introduced, visit thejournalnj.com.
Information prepared by the Armed Forces History Collections, in cooperation with the Public Inquiry Mail Service, Smithsonian Institution.