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A primer on flying the U.S. flag at half-staff

American Flag Half-StaffOne procedure that causes confusion for Americans is lowering the U.S. flag to half-staff. There are so many questions regarding this issue:

When do you lower the American flag? Why do you lower the flag? How do you lower the flag?

The U.S. Flag Code is very specific in regulating the days the U.S. flag is to be lowered to half-staff. Section 7(m) spells out in detail exactly when, who, why, and how to properly fly the U.S. flag on the designated or mandated days.

When to lower the U.S. Flag

When to fly the flag at half-staff is a two part answer. By congressional order, the U.S. Flag Code designates specific dates to fly the American flag at half-staff. Those days are listed here. These dates have historical significance, such as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, every year on December 7th.

There are eighteen days listed, which Flags Bay tracks on our public calendar.

Who can order the U.S. flag to fly at half-staff?

The U.S. Flag Code, again, is very specific in listing who precisely can order the U.S. flag to fly at half-staff: The President of the United States and any of our State Governors. There is regular controversy over this issue, and last week a mayor resigned because he believed in adhering to the U.S. Flag Code.

Why lower the U.S. Flag?

Lowering the U.S. flag to half-staff serves a couple of purposes. The specific days designated in the U.S. Flag Code shows the flag lowered for mourning or respect. If you look at the list of eighteen days, you can quickly determine the meaning for each.

The main purpose in this day and time is to mourn the loss of life in the defense of our country. Many state governors mandate the American flag to half-staff for resident soldiers killed in action. President Bush signed an amendment to the U.S. Flag Code adding soldiers to the list.

How to lower the U.S. Flag

Again, the Flag Code is very specific with instructions on lowering the U.S. flag to half-staff. Here is the text of the Code.

(m) The flag, when flown at half-staff, first should be hoisted briskly to the peak for an instant and then lowered slowly to the half-staff position. The flag should be raised again to the peak before it is lowered for the day.

But what if your flag is lighted and regularly flies at full-staff? Because the American flag is already at full-staff, the only requirement is to slowly lower the flag to half-staff for the designated time, then briskly raise it back to full-staff when the designated time is completed.

us-txflagwblackstreamer.JPGIf you fly a house flag mounted on a stationary pole, there is a way for showing the same sentiment as lowering the U.S. flag to half-staff. Deborah’s article details how you show the half-staff sentiment on the needed days by using black streamers. This practice is not outlined in the Flag Code, but is a traditional custom for showing respect and mourning.

Another interesting part of Section 7(m) is at the end, it defines some of the terms used in the Section to avoid confusion.

(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.

There you have a complete primer on properly lowering the U.S. flag to half-staff. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section.

5 thoughts on “A primer on flying the U.S. flag at half-staff

  1. […] more details about half-staffing protocol, go here. For President Bush’s Proclamation on Peace Officers’ Memorial Day and Police Week, […]

  2. The members of the board here at Redington Shores have a custom lowering the US flag when a
    Resident Us citizen or eg CAnadian dies. Nice custom transmits information inquiry etc.
    Recently I found outit was not proper. Therefore I purchased a mourners flag so the proper
    Respect would be shown to the US flag. The board and some residents do not agree they will
    Continue to lower the flag upon the death of a resident.
    The flag was lowered for my late husband a twenty three year Navy Veteran. I recently learned it
    Was not appropriate. There is so much disrespect for our flag I think we can do better. Please
    Advise Thank you.

    1. Dear Mrs. Hosker,
      Thank you for writing, and I apologize for the delay in responding to you. I am sorry for your loss, and I appreciate your husband’s years of service of service to our country.

      Regarding the half-staffing of the U.S. flag: only the President, and state (or territory) governors are allowed to order the flag to half-staff. But at the local level, such as you describe at Redington Shores, I see it, and read about it quite often. It is very hard to overcome sentiment sometimes.

      Section 7 (m) of the Flag Code describes (in considerable detail) the circumstances in which the flag may be lowered to half staff. Because it is so long, I am not going to print it here, but provide you with a link to the entire Flag Code.

      I like for everyone to have access to the entire Flag Code because I think it is important for us to read all those amendments, citations, historical notes, et cetera. Perhaps at the next community meeting, you can ask to be on the agenda, and show those on the board the actual document says (and perhaps provide copies for the board members). Maybe over time they will be persuaded. It is very hard to convince someone that they are violating the Flag Code, even in a way that’s intended to be respectful.

      I have to confess that I do not know what a mourner’s flag is, so if you don’t mind writing back, I would like to know.

      Best wishes,
      Deborah Hendrick

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