We know Betsy Ross made the first American flag. We know it’s red, white and blue, has stars and stripes and flies over a lot of public buildings. But did you know that Memorial Day is one of only 5 designated days for flying the US Flag at half-staff? And it only flies half-staff until noon?
What do we really know about honoring, displaying and taking care of our flag? Here’s a little Q&A you can use to create some good family conversation around the dinner table.
Does the American flag have to be destroyed if it touches the ground?
Answer: No, you are not required to destroy the flag if it touches the ground but always try to protect the flag from becoming soiled or damaged.
Is it OK leave the American flag out at night?
Answer: The Flag Code states that it is customary to display the flag from sunrise to sunset. However, the flag may be displayed after dark if it’s illuminated.
What’s the difference in half-staff vs. half-mast?
Answer: Half-mast is the designation at sea as the flag is flown from the ship’s mast. On land it’s half-staff.
Why is the American flag red, white and blue?
Answer: According to tradition, white signifies purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valor; and blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
Can the flag be cleaned and how?
Answer: The flag can be spot cleaned, washed or dry cleaned. Make the best choice according to the fabric of the flag.
Is it OK to wear clothes that look like our flag?
Answer: It’s OK to express patriotism by wearing clothing that is red, white, and blue with stars and stripes—just make sure your clothing is not made from an actual flag. Otherwise there is no breach of flag etiquette.
Is it OK to fly a flag in the rain?
Answer: If the rain can cause damage to the flag, bring it inside. Most flags today are made of fabrics that are waterproof these days and if that’s the case it’s OK to leave it outside.
When do you dispose of a worn out flag?
Answer: When a flag starts to look worn, it should be destroyed, preferably by fire. Contact your local American Legion or a Scout troop–sometimes they can help you with this.
When should the flag be at half-staff?
Answer: There are five official days the flag is flown half-staffed, including Memorial Day, when it’s displayed at half-staffed from sunrise until noon and at full-staff from noon until sunset. By order of the President or by the Governor of any State, territory or possession a flag may be flown at half-staff. On occasion, heads of several departments and agencies of the U.S. Government may direct the flag to half-staff if deemed proper to do so. NOTE: In 2018, President Trump has ordered the flag to be flown at half-staff in honor of Barbara Bush and Billy Graham, and to honor the victims of the Florida school shooting.
It is important to note that the Flag Code is a just a code–it is intended to provide guidance and is not obligatory. There are no civil or criminal penalties for “misuse” of the Flag though the Flag Code is required to be followed on public or government buildings.
It’s also important to note that our flag is a symbol of our country and a tribute to our freedom and to those who fought and died for that freedom. Our flag is deserving of respect. Use common sense when displaying our flag. It’s not that hard.
Note: Most questions are paraphrased from the American Legion website, though I did include a few of my own.