"When are you going to get rid of that communist flag?” school kids would ask my Dad. He would chuckle, and say, “Go back to school and open your history book!” You see, during the Bicentennial, Dad was very proud to fly a reproduction “Bennington” style flag in front of our Main Street grocery store. A devout student of history, he reveled in sharing the history behind the unusual flag featuring a crest of stars over the number “76” and the odd stripe configuration. More importantly, it gave him a springboard for a short lecture on “flag etiquette.”
When I was young, four particular days in the Graf home had special meaning attached. At the crack of dawn on Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day, Dad would wake up my four siblings and me. Together, the six of us would go down the first short flight of stairs in our big Victorian home to the “landing.” A large cedar chest was there, and we watched as Dad knelt down to open the bottom drawer. The smell of old cedar mingled with moth balls, as Dad pulled out a triangular-folded flag. After he stood erect, he handed it to his oldest son, my big brother Tom.
Holding the flag with his left hand underneath the triangular fold and the right hand on top, he descended the stairs to the first floor. We all followed him down the walnut steps to where he turned down the hall. Reaching the front door, he stepped to the side, as the next oldest, my sister, pulled it open. Tom and the flag passed through first, followed by the rest of the boys, Dad, and finally my sister. My big brother moved to the right side of the porch, as my other two brothers, Joe and Jim, stood to either side. Tom handed the flag to Joe and hopped up on the block wall surrounding the wooden porch. The other two unfurled the flag, as I fought to keep the fly from touching the floor. Tom hooked one eyelet to the porch ceiling, and then the other before hopping down. The six of us just stood there and admired the fruits of our efforts.
At the end of the day, just before the sun went down, we repeated the ceremony, this time all six laying hands on the flag as we first folded it into a long, narrow rectangle, and then folded it into triangles beginning at the fly and repeating until it made one neat three-sided package at the hoist. Handing it to Dad, he finished the folding by tucking the hoist inside to form a perfect wedge of blue emblazoned with white stars. Dad carried the flag back to the landing and returned it to the safety of the bottom drawer of the cedar chest where it would remain until the next “special flag day.”
Don’t get me wrong, we rarely exhibited this sort of harmony in our family. But on these four days – these four days that Dad impressed upon each of us as “special” – we reveled in the opportunity to display the flag “right.” Dad was the Post Commander of the American Legion, my big brothers were all Boy Scouts, my sister a Girl Scout, and me, well at 5 years old, I devoured all of this with a deep fascination. I loved the ritual, the commitment, and the devotion. This is something I have carried with me for more than four decades now.
“Flag etiquette” doesn’t seem to be an expression I hear much these days, but I know there are many, many people you deeply and respectfully display the flag. Whereas kids are probably involved in any one of a myriad of extracurricular activities these days, I suspect there aren’t too many that share the accepted rules of flag etiquette.
So, with that assumption, and Flag Day fast coming up on June 14, I thought it might be valuable to share some of the basics. You might find it a good review, or maybe will want to share some of it with a young person in your life.
FLAG ETIQUETTE IS LIKE “GOOD MANNERS:” EITHER YOU KNOW IT OR YOU DON’T
The U.S. Flag Code formalizes and unifies the traditional ways in which we give respect to the flag, It also contains specific instructions on how the flag is not to be used. The following is a list of do’s and don’ts associated with the U.S. Flag that Military.com synthesized into an easy-to-understand list:
When displaying the flag, DO the following:
*Display the U.S. flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flagstaffs in the open. When a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24-hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
*When placed on a single staff or lanyard, place the U.S. Flag above all other flags.
*When flags are displayed in a row, the U.S. flag goes to the observer’s left. Flags of other nations are flown at same height. State and local flags are traditionally flown lower.
*When used during a marching ceremony or parade with other flags, the U.S. Flag will be to the observer’s left.
*On special days, the flag may be flown at half-staff. On Memorial Day it is flown at half-staff until noon and then raised.
*When flown at half-staff, it 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. By “half-staff” is meant lowering the flag to one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff. Crepe streamers may be affixed to spear heads or flagstaffs in a parade only by order of the President of the United States.
*When the flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended vertically with the union (blue field of stars) to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street.
*When the flag is displayed in a manner other than by being flown from a staff, it should be displayed flat, whether indoors or out. When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union (blue field of stars) should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left. When displayed in a window it should be displayed in the same way -- with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.
*When the flag is displayed on a car, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
*When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.
When saluting the flag DO the following:
*All persons present in uniform (military, police, fire, etc.) 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.
When stowing or disposing of the flag, DO the following:
*Fold in the traditional triangle for stowage, never wadded up.
The VFW offers the following instructions for properly disposing of a worn flag:
*The flag should be folded in its customary manner.
*It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag.
*Place the flag on the fire.
*The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.
*After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished and the ashes buried.
*Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.
Quick list of Flag Etiquette Don’ts:
*Don’t dip the U.S. Flag for any person, flag, or vessel.
*Don’t let the flag touch the ground.
*Don’t fly flag upside down unless there is an emergency.
*Don’t carry the flag flat, or carry things in it.
*Don’t use the flag as clothing.
*Don’t store the flag where it can get dirty.
*Don’t use it as a cover.
*Don’t fasten it or tie it back. Always allow it to fall free.
*Don’t draw on, or otherwise mark the flag.
*Don’t use the flag for decoration. Use bunting with the blue on top, then white, then red.
SHOW YOUR COLORS: FLAG DAY—JUNE 14
In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated on June 14. Flag Day – the anniversary of the Second Continental Congress’ Flag Resolution of 1777 – was officially established by the Proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916. While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after the proclamation, it was not until August 3, 1949, that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day. Not only does the day commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States but it also recognizes the day in 1775 when Congress established the "the American Continental Army."
Furthermore, the week of June 14 is designated as "National Flag Week." During National Flag Week, U.S. citizens are encouraged to fly the American flag for the duration of that week.
So this June 14, I will start the day with the reverence Dad instilled in me. I will carefully unfurl my triangular-folded flag and hang it from a short pole on my garage. I encourage you to start the day showing someone in your family how to handle the flag with the respect bestowed upon it by the men and women who have served and fought for it.
Preserve the Memories,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine