American Flag Etiquette
The Flag of the United States of America
Nothing evokes such strong emotion as seeing the flag,
either a ceremony honoring a great event or draped over a coffin as a sign of
mourning for a hero or loved one.
Its unfurled banner, which symbolizes the love and pride
that we have as a nation, is a poignant reminder of America's greatness and
our fortune to live in a country which values freedom above all else. It
signifies the commitment made by our fallen comrades who battled bravely to
defend the honor of this sacred emblem - our American unity, our power, and
our purpose as a nation, and it exemplifies the devotion of our leaders who
continue to uphold its promise of liberty, justice and freedom for all.
Our nation reveres the flag, not out of a sense of
unquestioning worship but out of a deep sense of our national heritage.
Strengthened by our noble deeds, splendid accomplishments, and untold
sacrifices, the flag reflects America's pledge to uphold democracy and work
for peace throughout the world. It is America's strength in honor, as
dignified in the stars and stripes of the flag, which helps to establish the
moral character of our national foundation.
The flag, endearingly referred to as "Old Glory,"
represents all people of America. We, the people, are America. It is little
wonder that the people of America are moved when saluting the flag is it
passes by, reminding us that we are a part of this great land. We are "one
nation under God."
With Liberty and justice for All
before the American Revolution, flags bearing the familiar red and white
stripes, which symbolize the unity of the original 13 colonies of America,
began to appear. These stripes were later combined with the British Union Jack
to produce the Continental flag that flew over George Washington's
headquarters during the siege of Boston.
Almost a year passed after the Declaration of
Independence was signed before a new flag was adopted by the Congress. But
variations in the flag were persistent, and changes continued during much of
the 19th century. The Flag Act of 1818 fixed the number of horizontal stripes
at 13, and gave the President the authority to determine the star arrangement.
The now-familiar stars and stripes were not carried into battle by the United
States Army until the Mexican War.
Finally, in 1912, an executive order was established
which defined the design of the flag, including the star arrangement. Later,
when Alaska and Hawaii entered the Union, stars representing those states were
added to the flag, adapting the traditional horizontal arrangement.
American involvement in the Spanish-American War, World
War I, and World War II stimulated patriotic sentiments and interest in the
flag. In 1942, Congress established rules and customs concerning the flag and
the Pledge of Allegiance.
The years since World War II have seen the refinement of
various laws and regulations concerning the flag. Today, it has become an
accepted part of the decoration of most public buildings and a symbol regarded
as appropriate to almost any setting where citizens gather.
Pledge to the Flag
pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the
republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty
and justice for all."
After first appearing in a copy of the Youth's Companion
in 1892, as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of
America, the pledge to the flag received the official recognition of Congress
on June 22, 1942. The phrase, "under God," was added to the pledge by Congress
on June 14, 1954, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said that "in this
way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's
heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those
spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource
in peace and war."
When rendering the pledge of allegiance, persons should
stand at attention, face the flag, and, if in uniform, salute, or otherwise
place the right hand over the heart. Persons wearing the caps of veterans'
service organizations, such as the Disabled American Veterans, are expected to
salute. Others, such as Boy or Girl Scouts in uniform, should render respect
to the flag in accordance with the traditions of the organization whose
uniform they are wearing.
Our National Anthem
The "Star Spangled Banner" has been designated as the national anthem of the
United States of America. During the playing of the anthem when the flag is
displayed, persons not in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag
with their right hand over their heart. Those in uniform should begin saluting
the flag at the first note of the music, and hold the salute until the last
note of the anthem is played.
Again, this applies to those wearing veterans'
organizations caps or the uniforms of other patriotic organizations.
Displaying the Flag
When displaying the flag, it is important to remember certain guidelines of
proper flag etiquette. They are:
- When on display or carried in a procession with other
flags, the flag should be positioned to its own right. Also, it should be
placed to the right of a speaker or staging area, while other flags are
placed to the left.
- When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting
horizontally from a window sill, balcony, or building, the stars of the flag
should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half staff.
- The flag should be at the center and at the highest
point of the group when a number of flags of states, localities, or
societies are grouped for display.
- When the flag is displayed either vertically or
horizontally against a wall, the stars should be placed at the top of the
flag's right and the observer's left.
- When the flag is unfurled for display across a
street, it should be hung vertically, with the stars to the north or east.
- When the flag is flown with flags of other nations
they are to be displayed from separate staffs of the same height, and each
should be of equal size. International law forbids the display of the flag
of one nation to be flown above that of another nation during time of peace.
- During a time of national mourning, the flag can be
flown at half mast by order or proclamation of the President of the United
States. When flown at half mast, the flag should be hoisted to the peak for
an instant and then lowered to the half staff position. The flag should be
raised to the peak before it is lowered at the end of the day. On Memorial
Day the flag should be displayed at half mast until noon, then raised to the
top of the staff and flown until sunset. Local customs regarding the
lowering of company, city, or other flags to half mast are directed by the
executive officers of those service areas.
- When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be
placed with the stars at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag
should not be lowered into the grave or be allowed to touch the ground.
Flag carried in a procession with other flags & placed to the right of a
Flag displayed from a staff projecting horizontally
from a window sill, balcony or building
The flag should be at the center and at the highest point of the group
when flags of states, localities, or societies are grouped for display
Against a wall, the stars should be placed at the top of the flag's right
and the observer's left
When the flag is unfurled for display across a street, it should be hung
vertically, with the stars to the north or east
The flag can be flown at half mast by order or proclamation of the
President of the United States
When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be
placed with the stars at the head and over the left shoulder
Civilians often wonder why is
the Army Flag Patches reversed. The answer is: not all Army Flag Patches are
reversed, but only those worn on the right shoulder. The reason has to do with
proper display of the flag.
The blue field
of stars should always be in the highest position of honor. When viewing the
flag on a wall, the highest position of honor is the upper left when displayed
horizontally, and at the top (upper left) when displayed vertically. When
displayed on a "moving object" like a person or vehicle, the highest position
of honor is the front, and not the rear; so the field of blue should be
displayed to the front.
The same principle applies to the eagle rank of Colonels
(or Navy Captains); the eagles' heads are always worn facing forward when worn
on the uniform, as the forward-facing eagle is the position of honor within
In application, then, flags are displayed on moving
vehicles with the blue-star field always displayed towards the front of the
vehicle. In this way, the flag appears to be blowing in the wind as the
vehicle travels forward (flags are always attached to their flag poles on the
blue field side). If the flag were not reversed on the right hand side of the
vehicle, the vehicle might appear to be moving backwards (or "retreating").
The next time you visit an airport, notice that the
US-flagged aircraft also have a "reverse" flag painted on the right side of
For flag patches worn on uniforms, the same principle
applies: the blue star field always faces towards the front, with the red and
white stripes behind. Think of the flag, not as a patch, but as a loose flag
attached to the Soldier's arm like a flag pole. As the Soldier moves forward,
the red and white stripes will flow to the back.
As the proponent for standardization and authorization
of heraldry items within the Department of Defense, the Institute of Heraldry
addresses the apparent oddity of the reverse flag patch by stating, "When worn
on the right sleeve, it is considered proper to reverse the design so that the
union is at the observer's right to suggest that the flag is flying in the
breeze as the wearer moves forward."
Respect for the Flag
The Flag Code, a national guideline on ways in which the flag is to be
respected, states that no disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United
States of America. Specific ways, in which the flag should not be used,
according to the code, are:
flag should not be dipped to any person or thing, and can be flown upside
down only as a distress signal.
- The flag should never be used as wearing apparel,
bedding, or drapery. Bunting of blue, white, and red can be used for
covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of a platform, or for
decoration in general.
- The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used,
or stored in such a way that would allow it to be easily torn, soiled, or
- The flag should never have any mark, insignia,
letter, work, or other designs of any kind placed upon it.
- The flag should never be used as a receptacle for
receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
- The flag should never be used for advertising
purposes. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on
such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, paper napkins, boxes, or anything
that is designed for temporary use. Advertising signs should not be fastened
to a flag's staff or halyard.
- No part of the flag should be used is an element of a
costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be worn on the
uniform of military personnel, firemen, and members of patriotic or other
national organizations, such as the uniforms of veterans' service
organizations or Scout uniforms.
>When lowering the flag, make certain that no part of it touches the ground. It
should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag, ceremoniously
fold it length wise in half, then repeat with the blue field on the outside.
Finally, while one person holds it by the blue field, another then makes a
triangular fold in the opposite end, continuing to fold it in triangles until
only the blue shield shows.
When a flag is in such a condition that it is no longer
a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner,
preferably by burning.
Flying Our Flag
It is proper to display the flag from sunrise to sunset on all days the
weather permits. The flag may also be displayed at night if illuminated by a
light. But it is even more important to display the flag on national holidays
and days of importance, including:
New Year's Day
Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday
Armed Forces Day
Memorial Day (half staff until noon)
State and Local Holidays
Other days the flag may be flown at half mast may be
proclaimed by the President of the United States.
A properly proportioned flag will fold 13 times on the triangles, representing
the 13 Original Colonies. When finally complete the triangular folded flag is
emblematic of the tri-corner hat worn by the Patriots of the American
Revolution. When folded no red or white stripe is to be evident leaving only
the honor field of blue and stars.
Flag Retirement Ceremonies
As stated above, the preferred method for retiring a flag is by burning in a
dignified manner. Many local SAR, DAR, VFW, and other groups hold such
ceremonies and will collect the flags being retired.
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