Date: June 14, 2007
Byline: Sony Hocklander
Are displays of the flag patriotic or disrespectful?
It's on our cars, T-shirts, hats, even in our homes, but some wonder: Is the omnipresence of the flag
She looks pretty good for 230 years, that grand old flag of ours. At least she should, if we show her the respect she deserves.
It's Flag Day — the annual celebration of that June 14 in 1777 when the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act, adopting the red and white stripes with stars on a field of blue as our official colors.
It's doubtful our forefathers envisioned how marketable our flag's design would become, especially this time of year. It shows up in our living rooms. On key rings and car windows. On hats, shirts — even the seat of some pants.
For many, wearing and displaying Americana is a sign of patriotism. Yet some consider the practice excessive.
Others don't mind the flag being represented on clothing or decor, as long as Americans take time to educate themselves about proper display and care for the real thing.
Jim L. Morris, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy and the Army, doesn't mind when people wear flag-inspired shirts, as long as a real flag wasn't used to make it, which would go against common interpretation of the Flag Code.
"It's not a flag. It resembles a flag, and I don't have a problem with that," he says.
He has a big problem, however, when real flags are improperly displayed. One big no-no he sees in many neighborhoods: flags left out at night. According to etiquette rules, flags should be displayed only from sunrise to sunset unless they are illuminated.
"People are (displaying flags) out of respect, but they are short on education," he says. "I think a lot of it is ignorance."
Susan Stewart of Ava thinks too many people capitalize on patriotism and the flag's marketability for clothes and homes.
"There seems to be a lot more," Stewart says. "I think that it's becoming too commercial. ... That might be rather old-fashioned, but I think if they really truly want to be patriotic, they can use the flag as what it's designed for."
She's not alone. Strict interpretation of the Federal Flag Code, as cited on www.ushistory.org, means even representation of the flag on clothing violates Section 8 of the code. As does printing the flag on paper goods (such as party ware) and in advertisements. The rules of respect, however, are guidelines and not enforced with penalties.
Vickie Carlin of Monett thinks decorating in flag motif is overdone — "It just kind of turns me off" — and she doesn't like seeing shirts that look as though they were made from pieces of a real flag.
Although, "T-shirts that have a picture of a flag, and something that says something in support of the flag, that's fine," she says.
Al Powers, commander of the American Legion Post 639, says it's OK to wear clothes that feature the flag. In fact, the Legion sells hats with stars and stripes on the bill.
"Some people's flag-adorned shirts are a little gaudy," he says, "but they are trying to be patriotic and I appreciate that. I think this time of year, you see more of that."
He is bothered however, by the misuse of real flags — mostly from inattention, he says.
"I see it all over town, with businesses with tattered flags. And I call them," he says.
Usually, the business takes care of the flag when its distress is pointed out, he says.
The Legion provides pamphlets on flag etiquette, and they accept worn and torn flags for proper and respectful disposal.
Scott Macgill, a doctor who has served in the Marine Corps and the Army Medical Corps, thinks clothes and home decor bearing flag-like designs is a non-issue.
"It really is the sincerest form of flattery. It is patriotism. It's saying, 'I understand the patriots of the past.'"
Kenneth Timm, a retired Marine who spent 21 years on active duty, doesn't mind flag patches sewn on caps and shirts, but he doesn't like seeing them on pants as was prevalent in the 1970s. Even if they don't mean it in disrespect, it appears that way, he says.
"I condemn anybody who disgraces the flag, but I will defend anybody the right to do it," he says. "It's a free country and they have the right. But I don't like it."
Morris hopes those who plan to display a flag — for Flag Day, the Fourth of July or as a regular practice — will first brush up on the rules of flag etiquette.
"I'm an old-time vet that thinks the flag should be treated a certain way," Morris says.
"I would rather them not fly the flag than fly it disrespectfully."
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