One of the most famous moments of World War II occurred when five Marines raised a large U.S. flag on Iwo Jima. Joe Rosenthal’s picture of the event won him a Pulitzer Prize. It was later made into a life-size sculpture now known as the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
On June 22, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a House resolution codifying the rules governing the display and use of the flag by civilians. This was needed because of public concern and confusion regarding the proper respect shown to the U.S. flag. Though the flag code is recognized across the county, citizens follow it on a voluntary basis, and there is no legal penalty for not following it.
The flag code is readily available to the public, but some of it is difficult to understand. Therefore, many people ask the same questions pertaining to the proper etiquette and respect for the flag. What better time to address such questions than Flag Day, observed annually June 14.
Flying the flag
Properly flying the flag means that it always occupies the place of importance. Old Glory is to be flown higher than any other flags on the same flagpole. If different flagpoles are used, it is always flown on the right side.
When flown from a pole, the union, the blue segment with stars, should be at the peak. When hung vertically, the union should be in the top left corner. “The flag should never be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle.”
Although there are only a handful of places given specific congressional authority to fly the flag around the clock, any citizen is allowed to do so. According to the flag code, “It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during hours of darkness.” This could mean the owner places lights to shine specifically on the flag, or he may choose a location with enough ambient light that those walking by can easily identify it.
When inclement weather is certain, many people will take their flags down and bring them in. The flag code says this is unnecessary if an all-weather flag is being used. Otherwise, take it down slowly and respectfully, not allowing it to touch the ground, and take it inside.
Displaying the flag
Many do not know the regulations regarding displaying the flag. Some want to display the flag upside down or with the union on the bottom of the flag, as a sign of protest. The flag code says, “The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instance of extreme danger to life or property.”
Many sporting events display the flag as a means of expressing patriotism. However, many may unintentionally show disrespect to the flag. The flag code states, “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.” At some NFL games, cheerleaders hold a flag horizontally while the National Anthem is sung, in direct disregard to the code.
“The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery,” according to the code. This means those patriotic T-shirts may be interpreted as disrespectful to the flag they mean to honor. The code also says, “The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything. The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.” This would include all those pretty plates, napkins, and trash bags used on July 4. Even the U.S. Postal Service fails as they use flags on stamps.
All these rules are made to be followed voluntarily. The code was created to encourage citizens to respect the flag by always flying it high, straight, and right.
For the entire flag code plus much more information, click here.
Click here for step-by-step instructions to fold the flag.
Editor’s Note: The above originally appeared here in the June 2010 issue of AFA Journal.