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Flag rules and regulations

Flag Frequently Asked Questions

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Half-Staff the Flag on these Days (sunrise to sunset, except Memorial Day, see below):

  • May 15 — Peace Officers Memorial Day
  • Last Monday in MayMemorial Day: half-staff until noon
  • September 11 — Patriot Day
  • Sunday, usually of week in which October 9th falls — Fire Prevention Week
  • December 7 — National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
Should I fly my flag at half-staff today?
Should I fly my flag today?

Most Frequently Asked Questions:

General Questions

bullet My flag touched the ground. Do I need to destroy it?

No. You should, of course, try to avoid having the flag touch the ground. But if it does, you should correct the situation immediately. If the flag has been dirtied, you should clean it by hand with a mild soap solution and dry it well before returning it to use.

bullet My flag is old and ready to be retired. What should I do?

Section 8k of the Flag Code states, "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning." We recommend that you contact your local VFW Chapter and ask them for help properly disposing of your flag. And be sure to consider providing a small donation to them for their assistance. Or you can contact your local Elks Lodge (who created the idea of Flag Day, established officially by President Truman, himself a member of the Elks), the American Legion, or the Knights of Columbus. Some Boy Scout and Girl Scout troups also can provide this service.

See Flag Retirement Service and Ceremony

In earlier times, most American flags were made of cotton or wool. But today's flags are often nylon or other petroleum-based materials. Burning them can release hazardous gases, including formaldehydes, ammonia, carbon monoxide, and traces of hydrogen cyanide into the air. In some states, it is even illegal to burn nylon, so adhering to the Flag Code puts you in direct violation of the law. Burning is preferred for cotton and wool flags. Nylon and flags made from other synthetics can be buried.

Modern flag retirement ceremonies, often held annually on Flag Day, sometimes feature the symbolic burning of a single flag (cotton or wool) and the burial of the others. This is both safe and respectful.

American Flag Recycling: A group advocating recycling nylon flags

bullet When was the Flag Code established?

On June 22, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Federal Flag Code, which led to Congressional enactment on December 22, 1942.

Periodically the Flag Code has been updated and amended.

bullet What is the History of the Flag Code?

Beginning in the late 19th century, the use of the flag on beer bottles and other products led to a movement to protect the flag from commercial use. Efforts at the federal level failed, so states, one by one, started passing their own Flag Codes, beginning with Illinois, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.

In the case of Halter vs. Nebraska (1923), the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that state governments have the authority to ban desecration of the American flag.

Several efforts followed trying to unify the various state codes into one Federal Flag Code, which occurred in 1942 (see above).

The American Legion has been promoting flag etiquette since its founding in 1919. The Veterans of Foreign Wars has long advocated proper respect for the flag.

Adoption of State Flag Desecration Statutes — By the late 1800's an organized flag protection movement was born in reaction to perceived commercial and political misuse of the flag. After supporters failed to obtain federal legislation, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota became the first States to adopt flag desecration statutes. By 1932, all of the States had adopted flag desecration laws.

In general, these State laws outlawed:

  • Placing any kind of marking on the flag, whether for commercial, political, or other purposes;
  • Using the flag in any form of advertising; and
  • Publicly mutilating, trampling, defacing, defiling, defying or casting contempt, either by words or by act, upon the flag.

Under the model flag desecration law, the term "flag" was defined to include any flag, standard, ensign, or color, or any representation of such made of any substance whatsoever and of any size that evidently purported to be said flag or a picture or representation thereof, upon which shall be shown the colors, the stars and stripes in any number, or by which the person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag of the U.S.

bullet Are there recent changes to the Flag Code or flag rules?
  • Public Law No: 111-41 modifies the Flag Code to encourage the display of the flag of the United States on National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day.
  • Public Law No. 110-239 modifies the Flag Code to encourage the display of the flag of the United States on Father's Day.
  • Public Law No. 110-181 changes section 9 of title 4, permitting members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform to render the military salute. (Note that this change was opposed by the American Legion).
  • Public Law No. 110-41 authorizing Governors to issue proclamations to half-staff the flag upon the death of a member (from that state) of the Armed Forces who dies while serving on active duty.

The following legislation is pending

  • Genuine American Flag Act: To prohibit the importation for sale of foreign-made flags of the United States of America. Ref: GovTrack.us
  • Fallen Heroes Flag Act: To provide Capitol-flown flags to the immediate family of fire fighters, law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, and other rescue workers who are killed in the line of duty. Ref: GovTrack.us
  • Law Enforcement Officers Flag Memorial Act: To provide Capitol-flown flags to the families of deceased law enforcement officers. Ref: GovTrack.us
  • Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States authorizing the Congress and the States to prohibit the act of desecration of the flag of the United States and to set criminal penalties for that act. Ref: GovTrack.us
  • honorremember
    To amend title 36, United States Code, to designate the Honor and Remember Flag created by Honor and Remember, Inc., as an official symbol to recognize and honor members of the Armed Forces who died in the line of duty, and for other purposes. Ref: GovTrack.us
bullet Are there penalties for violating the Flag Code?

No. For private citizens, the Flag Code serves as a guide to be followed on a purely voluntary basis to insure proper respect for the flag. The Supreme Court has ruled that politically motivated violations of the Flag Code are protected by the First Amendment.

The Flag Code has no provision for enforcement. No fines, no penalties. There is nothing law enforcement can do when the Flag Code is broken.

See Title 18

bullet Are flags on T-shirts, ties, etc., really flags?
tieplus

Yes. According to the Flag Code, a flag is anything "by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag."

The words "flag, standard, colors, or ensign", as used herein, shall include any flag, standard, colors, ensign, or any picture or representation of either, or of any part or parts of either, made of any substance or represented on any substance, of any size evidently purporting to be either of said flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America or a picture or a representation of either, upon which shall be shown the colors, the stars and the stripes, in any number of either thereof, or of any part or parts of either, by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag, colors, standard, or ensign of the United States of America.

Source: Flag Code, Section 3

Therefore, a flag includes any representation of it of any substance, with stars and stripes of any number. This would include T-shirts and ties.

Other references in the Flag Code relevant to this question are:

  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. (section 8d)
  • It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like (section 8i)
  • [It should not be] printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes (section 8i)
  • The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature. (section 8g)
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. (section 8j)

The Flag Code states that the flag should never be worn. (Section 8d): "The flag should never be used as wearing apparel."

bullet How should I dispose of T-shirts with pictures of the flag on them?

Because the T-shirt is, according to the Flag Code, indeed a flag, it leads to the somewhat absurd conclusion that it needs to be retired in a dignified way.

See My flag is old and ready to be retired. What should I do?

bullet Is it okay for an advertisement to use the flag?

No. Section 8i of the Flag Code reads, "The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever." The earliest drafts of the Flag Code were in response to the use of the flag in advertisements and on packaging, especially for beer. Read more.

wbmason
W.B. Mason logo
ford
Ford TV ad
budcan
Budweiser
"patriotic"
can
krazyeddie
Krazy Eddie's TV ad
bullet Can I fly my flag at home 24 hours a day?

Yes, provided it is "properly illuminated."

Section 6a: "It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness."

The Flag Code offers no additional guidance on what "properly illuminated" means. We interpret it to mean that there should be either a light directly upon the flag or that there be sufficient local lighting to make the flag visible at night.

If you cannot "properly illuminate" your flag, we recommend that you retire it at sunset, as the Flag Rules specify.

The American Legion defines proper illumination as a "light specifically placed to illuminate the flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable as such by the casual observer."

bullet Have the "properly illuminated" rules been relaxed since 9/11 or for energy conservation?

No. There has been no revision of the Flag Code and there has been no Presidential Proclamation changing the guidelines for respectful display of the flag at night. Section 6a: "when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness."

bullet Is it appropriate to fly a flag that has fewer than 50 stars?

Yes. Official United States flags are always considered living, active flags. From the Betsy Ross flag to the present 50-star flag, any flag that at some time was the official flag is still considered a living flag to be accorded all due respect.

bullet Should I fly my flag today?

Section 6d of the Flag Code states:

The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on:

  • New Year's Day, Jan. 1
  • Inauguration Day, Jan. 20
  • Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, 3rd Monday in Jan.
  • Lincoln's Birthday, Feb. 12
  • Washington's Birthday, 3rd Monday in Feb.
  • Easter Sunday (variable)
  • Mother's Day, 2nd Sunday in May
  • Armed Forces Day, 3rd Saturday in May
  • Memorial Day, last Monday in May, (half-staff until noon)
  • Flag Day, June 14
  • Father's Day, 3rd Sunday in June
  • Independence Day, July 4
  • National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, July 27
  • Labor Day, 1st Monday in Sept.
  • Constitution Day, Sept. 17
  • Columbus Day, 2nd Monday in Oct.
  • Navy Day, Oct. 27
  • Veterans Day, Nov. 11
  • Thanksgiving Day, 4th Thursday in Nov.
  • Christmas Day, Dec. 25
  • and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
  • the birthdays of States (date of admission)
  • and on State holidays

Half-Staff the Flag on these Days:

  • May 15 — Peace Officers Memorial Day: half-staff from sunrise to sunset
  • Last Monday in May — Memorial Day: the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon
  • September 11 — Patriot Day: half-staff from sunrise to sunset
  • Sunday, usually of week in which October 9th falls — Fire Prevention Week: half-staff from sunrise to sunset. See Public Law 107-51
  • December 7 — National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day: half-staff from sunrise to sunset

  • Upon reliable information that the current or former President, current Vice-President, current or former Chief Justice, or current Speaker of the House has died
  • Upon Presidential proclamation or proclamation from your state's governor

» See Should I fly my flag at half-staff today?

bullet Saluting the flag by citizens, those in uniform, and non-citizens?

According to the Flag Code, Americans should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute. Those who are not U.S. citizens should stand at attention.

Public Law No: 110-181 (Sec. 594) "Allows members and veterans who are present but not in uniform during the hoisting, lowering, or passing of the flag to render the military salute."

bullet What do the colors red, white, and blue of the American flag symbolize?

The Continental Congress left no record to show why it chose the colors. However, in 1782, the Congress of the Confederation chose these same colors for the Great Seal of the United States and listed their meaning as follows: white to mean purity and innocence, red for valor and hardiness, and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice. According to legend, George Washington interpreted the elements of the flag this way: the stars were taken from the sky, the red from the British colors, and the white stripes signified the secession from the home country. However, there is no official designation or meaning for the colors of the flag.

bullet Why do we stand and put our right hand on our hearts when we say the pledge of allegiance? And where did this tradition originate?

The original Bellamy salute, first described in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, who authored the original Pledge, began with a military salute, and after reciting the words "to the flag," the arm was extended toward the flag, palm-down.

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all." At the words, "to my Flag," the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

The Youth's Companion, 1892

Shortly thereafter, the pledge was begun with the right hand over the heart, and after reciting "to the Flag," the arm was extended toward the Flag, palm-down.

In World War II, the salute too much resembled the Nazi salute, so it was changed to keep the right hand over the heart throughout.

bullet Where do you wear a lapel flag pin?
lapelpin

Lapel flag pins were in the news during President Obama's campaign in 2008.

Whereas a flag patch is restricted to military, emergency, and patriotic organizations; it appears, the lapel flag pin is not restricted. Section 8j of the Flag Code reads:

No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
bullet Should the American flag be taken down during a rain storm?

Most flags sold nowadays are all-weather flags (refer to the packaging). These are permitted to fly during inclement weather, according to the Flag Code.

The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed. (Section 6-c.)
bullet Is it proper to wash or mend a flag?

Yes. If a flag is torn, it can be repaired, preferably by a professional or someone skilled in mending. If it is dirty, it can be washed, preferably by hand with a mild soap. If it is faded or tattered beyond repair, or dirty beyond cleaning, then it is time to replace the flag.

Any flag that is tattered on the fly end can be repaired if the stripes (cut off where the tatter begins) are still longer than the field. If you fold the flag in half and the field overlaps the frayed fly, then it is time for a new flag.

Many dry cleaners will clean your flag at no cost. Ask your local cleaner their policy on cleaning flags.

See My flag is old and ready to be retired

bullet What music is played raising and lowering the flag?
Flash Player required to use this player.

The traditional bugle call for raising the flag is Reveille. On the first note, you begin to briskly raise the flag, which should take about 20 seconds.

The traditional bugle call for U.S. civilians lowering the flag is "Taps." In the military, they play "Retreat," then a gun is fired (if available), followed by playing the national anthem or "To The Color" (either live or recorded) and the flag is slowly lowered, completed with the final note of music. The Army plays "Taps" at funerals and as the last call of the night.

"Taps" was composed by the Union Army's Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield while in camp at Harrison's Landing, Virginia, in 1862, to replace the more formal "Tattoo" (lights out). It is called "Taps" because it was often tapped out on a drum in the absence of a bugler. It was used by both Northern and Southern camps. The call was officially adopted by the U.S. Army in 1874.

Sources: U.S. Army Bands | Military Analysis Network | Army Study Guide

bullet What are the rules for color guards?

The Flag Code does not provide much guidance on this question. We recommend you refer to the comprehensive Marine Corps Color Guard Manual [pdf]

bullet Is displaying the flag horizontally, as before a football game, a violation?
flagfield

Yes. It is contrary to the Flag Code, Section 8c, which reads:

"The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free."
bullet Can the American flag be used as the background for a bulletin board display with notices tacked on it?

No. According to the Flag Code, Section 8g: "The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature." Section 8: "No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America." Section 8j: "The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing."

bullet What are the rules for homeowners/condo associations?

There is a law protecting your right to fly the US flag.

A condominium association, cooperative association, or residential real estate management association may not adopt or enforce any policy, or enter into any agreement, that would restrict or prevent a member of the association from displaying the flag of the United States on residential property within the association with respect to which such member has a separate ownership interest or a right to exclusive possession or use. Read HR42.
bullet Is it okay to use flag napkins or flag paper plates?
flagdip

No. Section 8i of the Flag Code reads: "It should not be ... printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard."

This picture posted by Kraftfoods as a Fourth of July recommendation. They also provide a recipe for a flag cake.

bullet Is a cake decorated with a flag drawn with icing a violation of the Flag Code?
faq7

There is nothing specific in the Flag Code regarding the use of the US flag as food. It does say:

  • "No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America."
  • "... It should not be ... printed or otherwise impressed on ... anything that is designed for temporary use and discard."

The icing on a cake would generally be eaten, digested, and "discarded" in a most disrespectful way. We suggest that it is an inappropriate display of the flag.



bullet What does the gold fringe on the flag represent?
flag fringe

Gold fringe can be found on ceremonial flags used indoors and for outdoor ceremonies. The fringe is considered completely within the guidelines of proper flag etiquette. There is nothing in the Flag Code about the fringe being for federal government flags only. The Internet contains many sites that claim that the fringe indicates martial law or that the Constitution does not apply in that area. These are entirely unfounded (usually citing Executive Order 10834 and inventing text that is not part of the order) and should be dismissed as urban legends. Others ascribe meanings of spiritual authority. Gold fringes on flags goes back long before the United States. Flags in ancient India had gold fringe, as did those in France, England, and throughout Europe.

bullet How can I get a flag that has flown over the Capitol?

Constituents may arrange to purchase flags that have been flown over the Capitol by getting in touch with their Senators or Representative. A certificate signed by the Architect of the Capitol accompanies each flag. Flags are available for purchase in sizes of 3'x5' or 5'x8' in fabrics of cotton and nylon.

bullet Can I have people sign my flag?

No. You should never sign the flag directly on it. If your flag has a canvas strip that holds the grommets, it is acceptable to have everyone sign along that canvas strip. Or, you can have everyone sign a separate document that can then be framed and displayed with the flag.

bullet I am thinking of getting a flag tattoo. Is it okay?

There is nothing in the Flag Code about tattoos. The question is one of respect for the flag. In this case one person's respect is another's disrespect, and we advise against a flag tattoo. Perhaps an American eagle would look good?

bullet Is Texas's the only state flag allowed to fly at the same height as the US flag?

No. This is an urban legend. All state flags may fly at the same height as the U.S. flag. The U.S. flag must be on its right (the viewer's left), however. Texas's laws are consistent with those of the other states.

See Texas flag code.

bullet Does the ball ornament atop a flagpole contain a razor, lighter, and flare?

No. This is just an urban legend. One explanation is that the myth started during the Cold War and that the objects were to be used to destroy the flag in the event of a Soviet invasion. Of course, the ball ornament predates the Cold War by many years.

bullet Where does the flag fly 24 hours a day?
polemoon
South Pole and the moon

It flies 24 hours a day at thousands and thousands of locations. The flag code states:

Section 6a: "when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness."

Notably, it flies 24 hours a day on the moon and at the South Pole. (Purists note that the flag on the moon has almost assuredly been knocked over.)

But, there is an elite group where, by law or executive order, it is to fly 24 hours a day:

  • Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland
    Presidential Proclamation No. 2795, July 2, 1948.
  • Flag House Square, Albemarle and Pratt Streets, Baltimore Maryland
    Public Law 83-319, approved March 26, 1954.
  • United States Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima), Arlington, Virginia
    Presidential Proclamation No. 3418, June 12, 1961.
  • On the Green of the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts
    Public Law 89-335, approved November 8, 1965.
  • The White House, Washington, DC.
    Presidential Proclamation No. 4000, September 4, 1970.
  • Washington Monument, Washington, DC.
    Presidential Proclamation No. 4064, July 6, 1971, effective July 4, 1971.
  • Fifty flags of the United States are displayed at the Washington Monument continuously. United States Customs Ports of Entry which are continually open
    Presidential Proclamation No. 413 1, May 5, 1972.
  • Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
    Public Law 94-53, approved July 4,1975.
bullet When children paint the American flag, is that against the Flag rules and regulations?

Respectfully featuring the American flag in artwork is a wonderful thing and should be encouraged. We would hope that the artwork is preserved and displayed proudly by the young artists and their families.

bullet Isn't the American flag stamp in violation of the flag rules?
42¢ stamp

This question has been asked by dozens of visitors to this page. The answer appears to be yes. Section 8e. of the Flag Code reads, "The flag should never be ... used ... in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way." Section 8g. reads, "The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark ... of any nature." 8i. reads, "[The flag] should not be printed or otherwise impressed on ... anything that is designed for temporary use and discard."

bullet At the beginning of a scout meeting, when the Flag is brought into the room isn't it proper to salute as it is marched to the front and placed in its stand?

Section 9 states: "During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes."

bullet What state has never been under a foreign flag?

Although Idaho is the common answer to this popular trivia question, it was part of the Oregon Country, claimed by both the United States and Great Britain until the United States gained undisputed jurisdiction in 1846. Therefore the correct answer is "none."

bullet I am a printer. What PMS colors are proper for the flag?

In the Pantone system the colors are: Blue PMS 281 and Red PMS 193. The RGB colors are Dark red (#BF0A30), White (#FFFFFF), and Navy (#002868).

bullet Is it appropriate to use mints wrapped in a flag print wrapper at a banquet?

The flag is not a decoration, it is the symbol of a living nation. It is not to be trivialized by well-meaning but thoughtless uses, such as being used as mint wrappers.

bullet What does it mean if the flag is not flying at the White House?

An urban legend states that it only flies at the White House when the President is in town. According to Lonnie Hovey, Director of Preservation of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, "Unlike other countries where the flag flying or not flying signifies the monarch or president is in the residence, the American flag is always flying on top of the White House whether or not the President and First Family are at home."

bullet Why is the flag sometimes called the colors?

In formal and military contexts, the American flag is called different things depending on where or how it is displayed. For example, it is called an ensign when it is displayed on a vessel. It is called "Colors" when it is carried by foot, as by the infantry. It is called "Standard" when it is displayed on a car or an aircraft, and by the cavalry.

bullet Has the Congress always said the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each day?

No. That is relatively recent. The House began doing so in 1988. The Senate since 1999.

bullet In a recent Knights of Columbus ceremony, before the colors were retired, a "cap" was placed on the Eagle at the top of the flag. Where does this originate?
armyseal
Detail of US Army Seal. Click for enlargement of full seal.

It is a Phrygian cap or Liberty cap. In ancient Rome, it was given to a slave upon manumission as a sign of his freedom. In the Revolutionary era, the red Phrygian cap evolved into a symbol of freedom, in America, France, and elsewhere. The picture of Liberty on early silver dollars shows her wearing a Phrygian cap and today it is seen on the seal of the US Army (see picture). Also, those fans of cartoons will recognize it as the headgear worn by Smurfs.

bullet Is there a timeline of flag desecration issues?

Yes, we have posted a Timeline of Flag Desecration Issues here.

bullet Do I have to fold my flag in the triangular fold for storage between use?
triangle

No, for storage purposes, you may use the ordinary rectangular fold and, perhaps, place your flag in a plastic bag. If the flag is affixed to a staff, you may roll the flag around the staff for storage. The triangular fold is not required, but is traditional for display of the flag, often placed in a rectangular wooden display box. Instructions for the triangular fold as provided on this page. Before folding the flag, always be sure it is dry and clean.

Any valued flag may be displayed in the triangular box. It is not exclusively for display of funeral flags. For example, if you were to get a flag that flew over the White House, you could display that in the triangular box.

bullet In the triangular fold, how many stars should be showing? What do they represent?

The writer of this question continued, "I was told that 13 stars should be shown on a field of blue representing the thirteen original colonies and that the three sides of the flag represent the three branches of our goverment."

The number of stars showing depends on many factors. Rarely have I actually seen 13 stars showing. However, when it happens, it is simply a wonderful coincidence. In any case, your interpretation is certainly wonderful. According to the SAR, the triangular shape is representative of the tri-corner hat worn by the Patriots of the American Revolution.

bullet What is the meaning of the folds in a flag-folding ceremony?

There is no reference to meaning of the folds in the Flag Code.

There are several available flag-folding ceremonies you can use.

bullet Are flags taxed?

Sales tax laws differ state to state. You need to check with your own state's tax code (if it's online) or with a tax attorney for guidance.

Wisconsin is one example of a state with an exemption, but it does get a little tricky. Here is how it reads:

An exemption from Wisconsin sales and use tax is created for the sale of, and the storage, use, or other consumption of, the U.S. flag and the Wisconsin state flag.

A flag, for purposes of this exemption, is considered to include the staff to which the flag is permanently mounted when sold by the retailer. However, if a flag is sold together with other tangible personal property, such as a pole to which the flag may be attached and unattached, and mounting brackets, only that portion of the selling price attributable to the flag is exempt from Wisconsin sales and use tax.

Displaying the Flag

bullet Where should the flag be mounted as it relates to the front of a house?

It is traditionally flown either to the right or the left of the front door. It can be on either side. When there is a choice, find a position of prominence. Sometimes that is the left of the door, sometimes the right, sometimes away from the door, but centered on the house (when you have a porch, for example). Use your best judgment to find a nice position for the flag. However, if you fly a second flag, then the US flag must be on the viewer's left of the other flag, as you approach the house.

bullet We are flying the US flag, our state flag, and our company flag on side-to-side poles. What order should they be in?
pole3a

Facing the display, from left to right: US flag, state flag, company flag. If you are flying them on two poles, place the US flag on the leftmost pole, and the state flag over the company flag on the right pole (check your state Flag Code to be sure this is acceptable). You may not fly a company flag on the same pole as the US flag.

See complete order of precedence below

bullet We are flying the US flag, our state flag, and the POW/MIA flag on side-to-side poles. What order should they be in?
pole2pole3b

Normally you would fly the POW/MIA flag beneath the US flag. However, if you need to fly it on its own staff, a GSA directive for federal displays states, "It is generally flown immediately below or adjacent to the flag of the United States as second in order of precedence." [Ref: Bulletin: POW/MIA Flag Display]. Military protocol states that it would follow the others.

Facing the display, from left to right: US flag, POW/MIA, state flag. If you are flying them on two poles, place the US flag over the POW/MIA flag on the leftmost pole, and the state flag on the right pole.

Title 36, Section 902

See complete order of precedence below

bullet Doesn't the US flag fly on the tall center pole?
pole3d pole3e

Yes. When the three poles are the same height, the priority is left to right. When the center pole is taller, then the position of prominence is the center pole, then the left, then the right.

See complete order of precedence below

bullet We have the US flag, a Canadian flag, and our state flag.
pole3c

The correct order is US, then other nationality (always flown at the same height as the US flag), and then state flag.

Section 7g of the Flag Code states: "When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace."

See complete order of precedence

bullet How do I display the US flag on a ship's signal mast, with a gaff, when on land?

There are several opinions on this question. Oftentimes at marinas and yacht clubs, for example, a ship's signal mast is displayed on land. There is often discussion regarding the appropriate display of the U.S. flag. Should it match what is done at sea or should it be in compliance with the Flag Code, which does speak to displays at sea in Section 7-c? The gaff is the diagonal that projects aft from the crosstree.

mastsea
This is the convention at sea, with the U.S. flag on the gaff, with the club burgee at the peak.
mastland1
This display is consistent with the U.S. Flag Code.
mastland2
There is no prohibition against having the U.S. flag twice, and this solution is a compromise.

It is our feeling that the middle display above is appropriate, but we don't take objection to displays one and three above.

bullet I have three flags and one pole. What order should they be in?
threeflags

N.B.: You may never place two national flags on a single pole, as they must be at the same height and the approximate same size.

N.B.: You may never place a company or advertisement flag on the same pole as the US flag.

In military use, no more than two flags may be on a single pole. There is no official guideline for civilian use. The order, generally, is as follows, seen top to bottom:

  1. US flag
  2. POW/MIA
  3. state flags (host state first, then others in the order of admission)
  4. US territories (Washington DC, Puerto Rico, etc.)
  5. Military (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard)
  6. other (not advertising)*

*Section 8i of the Flag Code reads:

"Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown."

See complete list

bullet The American flag is on top. But, can a company flag fly beneath it on the same pole?

No. Corporate banners are a form of branding, and, as such, a form of advertising. Section 8i of the Flag Code reads:

"Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown."
bullet I have a neighbor flying a Mexican flag and no US flag. Is this a violation of the flag code?

The Flag Code requires that the US flag be flown on federal institutions, including public schools. It does not require you to fly the US flag and it does not forbid you from displaying a foreign flag. For example, someone with Irish heritage may proudly fly an Irish flag and is not required to fly the US flag. In the early 1900s there was hostility when the German flag was flown in the US, prompting Theodore Roosevelt to state that we had one flag, and one language. We are again revisiting tensions, this time it is the Mexican flag. We understand the emotional tensions of the situation, however, the Flag Code does not support those who wish to forbid the flying of the Mexican flag within our borders without also flying the US flag.

bullet Can a foreign flag fly above the US flag?
Mexican-US flags
KRNV News 4

A situation arose in Reno, where a Mexican Flag was flown above the US flag on a single pole. This was a violation of the Flag Code and was apparently done to make a political statement.

Let's start by looking at the Flag Code. You will find there is a contradiction. First it says that all foreign flags should fly at the same height as the US flag. But later, it says that no foreign flag should fly at the same height as the US flag.

7g. reads, "When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace."

7c. starts, "No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America..."

7c. later on reads (emphasis ours), "No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States at any place within the United States or any Territory or possession thereof..."

Notwithstanding the confusion here, it is always recommended to fly foreign flags from separate poles, and that the flags should be flown at the same height (or the US flag slightly higher) and be of same or similar size.

See Are there penalties for violating the Flag Code?

bullet How do we display the US flag with the Christian Flag?

The challenge is which flag should be in the position of prominence. Section 7k of the Flag Code states:

When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.

Does God come before country? Are secular and sacred separate spheres? In the 1840s the Nativist Riots were directed against Catholics fearing sovereignty of the Pope over the laws of the country. We advise not making a political issue over the flags. Some choose not to fly the US flag inside the church, to avoid the conflict. Most prefer to have the US flag in the church, to recognize that our Freedom of Religion is one of the extraordinary distinguishing and precious freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.

The Christian flag may fly above the US flag only "during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy" (Flag Code, Section 7c).

One option, to be consistent with both the US Flag Code and the Christian Flag Code, is to place the US flag at the far left (congregation's perspective) and the Christian flag to the right, front, of the congregation and outside of the communion railing. Both flags should be at the same height and of approximately the same size.

bullet The complete order of precedence of flags in the US

The following is the order of precedence of flags, according to Army regulations.

  1. The flag of the United States.
  2. Foreign national flags. (Normally, these are displayed in alphabetical order using the English alphabet.)
  3. Flag of the President of the United States of America.
  4. State and territorial flags. Normally, state flags are displayed in order of admittance of the State to the Union. However, they may also be displayed in alphabetical order using the English alphabet. Territorial flags are displayed after the State flags either in the order they were recognized by the United States or alphabetically.
  5. Military organizational flags of the Services in order of precedence
    1. Cadets, United States Military Academy
    2. Midshipmen, United States Naval Academy
    3. Cadets, United States Air Force Academy
    4. Cadets, United States Coast Guard Academy*
    5. Midshipmen, United States Merchant Marine Academy
    6. United States Army
    7. United States Marine Corps
    8. United States Navy
    9. United States Air Force
    10. United States Coast Guard*
    11. Army National Guard of the United States
    12. Army Reserve
    13. Marine Corps Reserve
    14. Naval Reserve
    15. Air National Guard of the United States
    16. Air Force Reserve
    17. Coast Guard Reserve*
    18. Other training organizations of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, in that order, respectively.

    *During any period when the United States Coast Guard shall operate as part of the United States Navy, swap numbers 3 and 4, 9 and 10, and 16 and 17. ref

  6. Military organizational flags within a Service by echelon. The flag for the regimental corps will have precedence immediately before the regimental proponent’s command flag. The regimental corps flag will never have precedence above a MACOM flag.
  7. Individual flags in order of rank. For the purpose of order of precedence, the term “individual flags” includes the Department of the Army Senior Executive Service flag.
  8. Other
minuteman
WWII Minuteman flag. Click for enlargement.

When authorized, the following may be flown beneath the flag of the United States:*

  • The Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) flag
  • The Army Savings Program (Minuteman Flag)
  • The Retiree flag
  • Commander-in-Chief's Installation Excellence Award flag

*Army Regulation 840-10 2-2.c, reads, "The flag of the United States is the only flag that may be flown from a flagpole over a CONUS Army installation unless an exception is granted by TIOH, U.S. Army. However, the Minuteman flag (AR608-15) , the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) flag, the Retiree flag, or the Commander-in-Chief's Installation Excellence Award flag, when authorized, may be flown beneath the flag of the United States without referral to TIOH for exception. The POW/MIA flag will be flown beneath the flag of the United States on Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday in May; Memorial Day, the last Monday in May; Flag Day, June 14; Independence Day, July 4; National POW/MIA Day; Veterans Day, November 11 and on occasions when the installation is hosting POW/MIA activities. The Retiree flag may be flown on Veterans Day or occasions when the installation is sponsoring activities for retirees such as open house or retiree day. Not more than one flag will be displayed below the flag of the United States and, if displayed, will be approximately 6 inches below the flag of the United States."

Source:Army Regulation 840-10 [PDF]

See What is the correct order of the flags of the Military Branches?

bullet What is the correct order of the flags of the Military Branches?
branchflags2

The correct order of precedence is:

  • Army
  • Marine Corps
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Coast Guard

The US Army was established in June 14, 1775.

The US Marine Corps has had precedence over the Navy since 1921. The Marine Corps cites its origins to legislation of the Continental Congress establishing the Continental Marines on November 10, 1775.

The US Navy (until 1972) dated its establishment to legislation on March 27, 1794. Today, it dates its establishment to October 13, 1775, when George Washington, under Continental authority, took command of three privately-owned schooners to intercept British supply ships near Massachusetts.

The US Air Force became an independent service in 1947. It traces itself back to the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps (part of the Army) in 1907.

The US Coast Guard dates itself to the founding of the Revenue Cutter Service on August 4, 1790, by Alexander Hamilton. The modern Coast Guard can be said to date to 1915, by act of Congress.

See The complete order of precedence of flags in the US

Source:Naval Historical Center

Here are the standards of the five branches of the military, in their correct order of precedence:

branchflags1

bullet On my motorcycle, I have two flags, the US flag and a POW/MIA flag. How should they be positioned?
motorcycle

The US flag should always be on its right, as shown in this picture. The POW/MIA or other flag flies on its left, which is the viewer's right, facing the motorcycle.

When flying just the US flag or several flags, the US flag can be at the center, flying higher than the others.





bullet Is it okay to display the flag upside down to protest the direction of government, the economy, the war, high crime rates, your bar's liquor license, etc.?
upside-down-flag

The Flag Code states, "The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property."

We feel it is a far stretch to argue that political purposes constitute the "dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property" the Flag Code speaks of. An instance is a single event not an extended duration of time. The clear intent is as a call for immediate emergency assistance (danger at sea, or perhaps during a kidnapping in progress, for example).

We recommend that people who wish to express their political dissatisfaction find a way to do so that is respectful of the flag ("The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing." Section 8j).

"In times of national crisis, Americans look to the United States flag as a symbol of hope, courage, and freedom; the United States flag is universally honored; the United States flag honors the men and women of the Armed Forces who have given their life in the defense of the United States; the United States flag serves as a treasured symbol of the loss of loved ones to the countless families of those who died in defense of our Nation" (Ref: H.Res.420, sponsored by Rep. Robert Latta [R-OH])

The flag may, to some, represent just the government and its policies; but it is truly "a symbol of hope and inspiration to people at home and around the world — as a constellation which grows brighter with every achievement earned and sacrifice borne by one of our citizens." [ref]

We recommend you show respect for the flag and make your political views known in other ways.

While it is not illegal, it is inconsistent with the intent of the Flag Code and disrespectful to the memory of those who sacrificed their lives to protect your freedom to protest.

bullet Why is the flag sometimes backwards on the side of airplanes, buses, and other vehicles?


Air Force 1 showing the regular flag on the left side and the reverse flag on the right side.

The flag decals show the union (the blue area) on the side closer to the front of the plane. On the plane's left, the decal shows the flag with the union at the left, as usual. On the plane's right side, is a "right flag" or "reversed field flag" or "reverse flag," with the union on the right. This is done so that the flag looks as if it is blowing in the wind created by the forward movement. You can see this on cars and trucks as well.

bullet What is the proper way to wear a flag patch on one's shoulder sleeve?
left or reversed flag
Left Flag
Right Flag
Right or "reversed field" flag
petraeus
General David Petraeus

To wear our country's flag properly, the field of stars is worn closest to your heart. Further, when worn on the sleeve of a military uniform, the flag should appear to be advancing and not retreating. Thus, if your patch is to be worn on your LEFT sleeve, use a left flag (normal). For patches worn on your RIGHT sleeve, use a "right" or "reversed field" flag.

Since the Flag Rules do not specifically address the positioning of the patch, a decision is left to the discretion of the organization prescribing the wear. Some elect to use the "left" flag on both sleeves. [Note: many states and cities have ordinances pertaining to the use of the flag; you may wish to contact the Attorney General of your state or the City Attorney's office regarding this matter.] If you are planning to wear only one patch, it is recommended that you wear a "left" flag on your left sleeve.

Military guidelines specify that in support of joint or multi-national operations (as in Afghanistan), the "right" flag is worn on the right sleeve (see picture), 1/4" below the shoulder seam or 1/8" below any required unit patches. (Class A uniform excepted.)

Some people find the "right flag" disrespectful of the flag and some are calling it the "wrong flag." They seek to gain support to encourage a change in the regulations to always use a "left flag" even on a right sleeve.

Source: Army Regulation 670–1 [pdf]

bullet I am interested in having a US flag patch sewn on the right arm of my baseball jersey.
baseball

Section 8j. of the Flag Code states, "No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform."

bullet While inside a building, on a staff that sits on the floor, is there a particular side of the building the flag needs to be on? east, south, north, west?

No, the direction is not important inside a building. The US flag should be in the place of prominence in the room. This is usually at the far left corner or centered on the far wall, as you enter the room.

bullet When inside a building, suspended from the ceiling, is the direction important?

Yes. Section 7o reads, "When the flag is suspended across a corridor or lobby in a building with only one main entrance, it should be suspended vertically with the union of the flag to the observer's left upon entering. If the building has more than one main entrance, the flag should be suspended vertically near the center of the corridor or lobby with the union to the north, when entrances are to the east and west or to the east when entrances are to the north and south."

Half-Staff, Half-Mast

bullet Is there a difference between half-mast and half-staff?

According to Merriam-Webster's (3rd Edition):

Half-mast: a point some distance but not necessarily halfway down below the top of a mast or staff or the peak of a gaff.

Half-staff: HALF-MAST — used of a flag or a flagpole

The Associated Press Style Guide suggests using "half staff."

However, most dictionaries use "half-mast" as the preferred term.

The Flag Code (section 7-m) reads:

The term "half-staff" means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff;

Using Google, you find the term "half-mast" 592,000 times and the term "half-staff" 428,000 times. Searching White House press releases "half-staff" appears 80 times to "half-mast" only 4 times.

Naval flag protocol uses the term "half-staff" 10 times, and the term "half-mast" 61 times.

Our conclusion is that both terms can be used. The term "half-mast" is preferred by dictionaries and seems more appropriate at sea (as ships have masts). "Half-staff" seems more appropriate on land, and is the preferred term used in the Flag Code and in Presidential proclamations.

We call it a draw. The two terms may be used interchangeably for general use.

bullet Should I fly my flag at half-staff today?

» Also see Should I fly my flag today?

When to half-staff the flag

  • May 15 — Peace Officers Memorial Day: half-staff from sunrise to sunset
  • Last Monday in May — Memorial Day: the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon
  • September 11 — Patriot Day: half-staff from sunrise to sunset
  • Sunday, usually of week in which October 9th falls — Fire Prevention Week: half-staff from sunrise to sunset. See Public Law 107-51
  • December 7 — National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day: half-staff from sunrise to sunset

  • Upon reliable information that the current or former President, current Vice-President, current or former Chief Justice, or current Speaker of the House has died
  • Upon Presidential proclamation (see next) or your state's governor (see after)
President

Presidential proclamation
Click to see if the President has issued a proclamation to half-staff the flag.

Governors' Websites:

By statute, the President is requested each year to issue a proclamation requiring government buildings to half-staff the flag and inviting all the people of the US to do so as well, on Peace Officers Memorial Day, Patriot Day, and National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (see above).

Section 7m of the Flag Code reads:

The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff. By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law. In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession who dies while serving on active duty, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff, and the same authority is provided to the Mayor of the District of Columbia with respect to present or former officials of the District of Columbia and members of the Armed Forces from the District of Columbia. The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President or a former President; 10 days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress. The flag shall be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. As used in this subsection —

  1. the term "half-staff" means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff;
  2. the term "executive or military department" means any agency listed under sections 101 and 102 of title 5, United States Code; and
  3. the term "Member of Congress" means a Senator, a Representative, a Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.

In addition to the Flag Code, Proclamation 3044 Section 5 states, "The heads of the several departments and agencies of the [federal] Government may direct that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff on buildings, grounds, or naval vessels under their jurisdiction on occasions other than those specified herein which they consider proper, and that suitable military honors be rendered as appropriate."

bullet Upon the death of a sitting or former President how long does the flag fly at half-mast? For a Vice-President? Others?
  • 30 days from the death of the President or a former President
  • 10 days from the day of death for: Vice President; Chief Justice of the US or a retired Chief Justice of the US; Speaker of the House of Representatives
  • Day of death until interment for: Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; Secretary of an executive or military department; Former Vice President; Governor of a State, territory, or possession
  • Day of death and the following day for: Member of Congress

Section 7-m of the Flag Code

bullet How can I show mourning if my flag is on a fixed pole or staff and can't be half-masted?

The flag rules make no provisions for this. You can affix a streamer of black crepe to the staff immediately below the spearhead of the U.S. flag. It should be no wider than 1 foot, but may be less wide to match the proportionality of the flag. It should be about 1-1/2 times the hoist of the fly (the shorter dimension; the height of the flag). Attach a black streamer with a bow-knot to the spearhead (top) of the pole, allowing the streamer to fall naturally. Alternately, you can affix black bow-knots, with or without streamers, placed at the fastening points.

bullet Can the US flag be flown at half staff and the state flag be flown underneath of it on the same pole?

Yes. The US flag should be at a point midway on the pole and the state flag should fly beneath it.

bullet When the US flag is at half-staff, do other foreign flags fly at full-staff?

Yes. "The flag of the United States will be flown at half-staff whether or not the flag of another nation is flown at full staff alongside the United States flag."

Reference: Department of the Army Pamphlet 600–60

bullet When the US flag is at half mast, should other flags (state, city, company) be flown at half mast?

Yes, they should. Here is what Section 7f of the Flag Code states:

When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag's right.

Therefore, when the US flag is flown at half-mast, other non-national flags should also fly at half-mast.

bullet On Memorial Day, should we place small flags at gravesites?

Yes, it is customary to honor fallen soldiers every Memorial Day by placing a small flag at the gravesite. At Arlington Cemetery, on the Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend, small flags are placed at every burial site in a ceremony called "Flags In." The small flags are removed at the end of the Memorial Day weekend.

Memorial Day is the last Monday of May and the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon and then raised to full-staff. Full staff shows that the nation lives, for the flag is the symbol of the living nation.

Memorial Day began after the Civil War to honor the fallen Union soldiers. Over time it expanded to memorialize those who served from all branches of the military and in all wars. It was traditionally celebrated on May 30. In 1968, it was changed to the last Monday in May, traditionally kicking off the unofficial beginning of the summer season. At 3:00pm a minute of silence is observed across the nation.

Reference and more history: US Dept. of Veterans Affairs

bullet Can the governor order the US flag half-staffed for anyone he or she chooses?
halfstaff_state

No. Section 7m of the Flag Code authorizes a governor to half-staff the US flag upon the death of a present or former official of the government of the state, or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from that state who dies while serving on active duty.

The President, by comparison, is authorized to half-staff the US flag by proclamation upon the death of principal figures of the US Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as well as in the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries.

We recommend flying the state flag at half-staff.

A recent change allows governors to order the flag to half-staff to honor fallen soldiers from their state (see Public Law 110-41). The change was the result of governor proclamations, like this one from Governor Granholm of Michigan.

Some object to this extension of a governor's authority because they feel half-staffing the flag for every fallen soldier can be seen as anti-war. Some feel that overuse cheapens the symbolic power of half-staffing the flag, traditionally reserved for political leaders.

bullet Can the mayor order the US flag to half-mast?
halfstaff_city

No. According to the Flag Code, only the President of the United States, your state's Governor, and the Mayor of the District of Columbia can order the US flag lowered to half-staff.

If everyone were to half-staff the US flag at will, the symbolic value of that honor would be lost. Another option is to display black crepe near the entrance to your building, perhaps with a photograph of the former mayor, firefighter, police officer, etc.

We recommend that you fly your town flag at half staff.

Also see Can the governor order the US flag half-staffed for anyone he or she chooses?

bullet Can my company fly the US flag at half-mast for a former employee?
halfstaff_com

No. According to the Flag Code, only the president of the US or your state governor can order the US flag lowered to half-staff. You can half-staff your company flag, which has the advantage of informing passersby and uninformed employees, clients, etc., that someone important to your company has died.

bullet Can my school fly the US flag for a former student killed in Iraq?

No. According to the Flag Code, only the president of the US or your state governor can order the US flag lowered to half-staff. You can half-staff your school flag. You can also display black crepe near the entrance to the building, perhaps with a photograph of the former student.

bullet I was told there are 5 places the flag is never lowered to half staff.

We receive this question periodically. The five proposed locations are:

  • The Betsy Ross House (false, it is half-staffed)
  • The Alamo (false, it is half-staffed)
  • USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (false, it is half-staffed)
  • The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington (false, it is half-staffed when others are, and, in addition, it is lowered to half-staff 30 minutes before each funeral)
  • The Moon (true)

A flag, however, is never half-staffed on the battlefield. There are locations so remote that it is not lowered to half-staff. And, half-staffing the flag is done on a voluntary basis by citizens, so there are certainly many flags that are never half-staffed. However, there are no locations where the flag is not half-staffed by Congressional or Presidential authority.

Also see Where does the flag fly 24 hours a day?

Funeral Flags

bullet Is it okay to fly a flag that was used to drape a coffin?

The Flag Code makes no reference to this use. There is a difference of opinion. Some feel that once folded, it should remain so forever. Other experts feel that it would be an honor to display the flag again to show patriotism. Casket flags are 9-1/2'x5' which is almost twice larger than the usual 5'x3' house flag.

bullet How do you drape the flag on a casket?
opencasket
  • Closed Casket: When the flag is used to drape a closed casket, it should be so placed that the union (blue field) is at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased. It may be said that the flag is embracing the deceased who in life has served the flag.
  • Half Couch (Open): When the flag is used to drape a half-couch casket, it should be placed three layers to cover the closed half of the casket in such a manner that the blue field will be the top fold, next to the open portion of the casket on the deceased's left.
  • Full Couch (Open): When the flag is used to drape a full-couch casket, it should be folded in a triangular shape and placed in the center part of the head panel of the casket cap, just above the left shoulder of the deceased.

During a military commitment ceremony, the flag which was used to drape the casket is held waist high over the grave by the pallbearers and, immediately after the sounding of "Taps," is folded in accordance with the instructions given at the top of this page.

This custom began during the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1815). The dead carried from the field of battle on a caisson were covered with a flag.

A casket flag is 9-1/2' x 5'.

Sources: Application For United States Flag For Burial Purposes 21-2008 | Customs (Arlington Cemetery)

bullet My father was very patriotic, but didn't serve. Can his coffin be wrapped in a flag?

It is appropriate for any patriotic person to make and be granted the same honor as military to have a flag drape the coffin. Only those who served in the military, however, are provided the flag for free. It would be recommended that during the service that it be explained that the flag is draping the coffin as an expression of the deceased's patriotism and love of country.

The flag for one who dies on active duty is provided by one's branch of service. Flags for other Veterans are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Civilians must purchase the flag at their own expense.

bullet My father, a war veteran, requested that he be buried wrapped in a flag.

There is a tradition to bury a war veteran with a small flag or should it be requested, it is proper for a veteran to be buried with his or her body wrapped in the flag.

Source: USAF Honor Guard Basic Protocol, Honors, and Ceremonies L5AZO8G000 [pdf]

For more information about veterans' funerals, click here.

bullet Last October our granddaughter's paternal grandfather died. After the flag was folded, the soldier tucked three spent cartridges in with the flag. What is the meaning of the three cartridges?

According to Major Robert A. Lynn, USMCR, the three spent cartridges are symbolic. During a lull in battle, both sides would fire three volleys each and then would remove their dead from the field of battle.

bullet What are the funeral protocols for a veteran who has died?

To honor the memory of their service to their country, a United States flag drapes the casket of deceased veterans. The field of blue is at the head and over the left shoulder. After Taps is played, the flag is carefully folded into the symbolic tricorner shape. The folded flag is then presented as a keepsake to the next of kin (see below). Each branch of the Armed Forces uses its own wording for the presentation:

U.S. Air Force: "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of (Service Member's rank and name)."

U.S. Army: "This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service."

U.S. Coast Guard: "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and the Coast Guard."

U.S. Marine Corps: "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and Corps."

U.S. Navy: "On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to this Country and a grateful Navy."

If the next of kin wishes (ask first), add: "God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America."

At the end of the ceremony, the flag is presented to the next of kin (see next), usually by the military chaplain.

Primary Next of Kin (PNOK)

  1. Spouse
  2. Sons or daughters in the order of age, oldest first
  3. Oldest parent, unless legal custody was granted to another person
  4. Blood or adoptive relative granted legal custody
  5. Brothers or sisters in the order of age, oldest first
  6. Oldest grandparent
  7. Other relative in accordance with laws of deceased's domicile
  8. Close friends and associates

Note: If the deceased was serving on Active Duty, he/she would have appointed a PNOK in writing, for notification.

Flags for Veterans

Flags are provided for burial services of Servicemembers and Veterans. The flag for one who dies on active duty is provided by one's branch of service. Flags for other Veterans are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

See Laws Relating to Funeral Honors for more information.


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