A lot of people today have a misconception of how to properly handle and display the flag of the United States. We need to remember that our flag is more than a piece of cloth. It stands for our nation and the shared history, pride, principles, and commitment of its people. When we properly display this powerful symbol, we signal our respect for everything it represents. We need to take care and think about what we are doing when we display the flag. It has great meaning and isn’t something to take lightly.
There is actually a United States Flag Code, adopted by the National Flag Conference, Washington, D.C., on June 14-15, 1923. It has since been revised several times, the last time being October 25, 1999. In that final revision, seven Items were adopted: 1) Pledge of Allegiance and manner of delivery; 2) Display and use of flag by civilians; 3) Time and occasions for display; 4) Position and manner of display; 5) Respect for flag; 6) Conduct during hoisting, lowering, or passing of flag; and 7) Modification of rules and customs by President.
Let’s talk about Item 3) Time and occasions for display. The Item says “It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open.” However, it is allowed to fly a flag 24 hours a day, “when a patriotic effect is desired,” if you properly illuminate the flag. In other words, the flag has to have a light on it in some way during the night. The Item also says the flag should be “hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.” That means you must raise the flag rather “fast” and then when you take it down you lower it “ceremoniously,” or with respect. The code also says you should not display the flag on days when there is inclement weather, or when it is raining or snowing, unless you have an “all-weather flag.” And, of course, you display the flag on the national holidays.
Now let’s talk about flying the flag at half mast, because this code also talks about the fact that the flag should be flown at half mast on Memorial Day. In the early days of our country, no regulations existed for flying the flag at half-staff and, as a result, there were many conflicting policies. But on March 1, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a proclamation on the proper times to fly the flag at half-staff (Proclamation 3044). The United States flag flies at half-staff when the nation or a state is in mourning to mark the death of a government official, military member, first responder, or following a national tragedy. It is also flown at half-staff on Memorial Day to honor those who fought for our country. The proper way to fly the flag on these days is to briskly raise the flag to the top of the pole at sunrise, then lower it ceremoniously to half-mast. It remains at half-staff until noon and then should be raised briskly to the top of the pole where it remains until sunset. These rules are very important as the ceremony of it is how we honor the flag for the symbol that it is. This is covered in Items 4 and 5 of The Flag Code.
Item 6 talks about Conduct during hoisting, lowering, or passing of the flag. The flag should never touch the ground or anything below it. It should never be carried flat unless it is being draped over a casket for a funeral. It should be stored appropriately folded and in a place where it will not be disturbed or damaged. The flag should be folded into a triangle with only the stars showing, which requires two people.
A local veteran in Bear Lake left a quote saying ”This one’s for Travis.” It goes like this: “When you come to a flag pole in the daytime or the middle of the night, you don’t have to look up at the flag. You know it isn’t Russian, Chinese, Iranian, or Japanese. It’s American and it’s that way because of our American veterans!”
This is so true. We honor our flag because of those who fought for our freedom. Wouldn’t it be awesome if everyone who has someone in their family that fought in one of the wars would put a flag on that person’s grave for Memorial Day? And what if that happened in all the cemeteries in Bear Lake? What a sight that would be!
Let’s fly our flags with honor and ceremony. Let’s handle them with dignity and respect, remembering what they signify: the people who fought for our country and the freedoms we enjoy because of them.
And thank you to the Bear Lake cheerleaders for putting the larger flags up at the Montpelier Cemetery for Memorial Day! You’re awesome!