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Antique American flags link our history

A thirteen star flag from the Bridgman collection.
A thirteen star flag from the Bridgman collection.

Antique American flags link our history to the present. Antique American flags and other textile memorabilia were featured this summer in Town & Country magazine. Antiquities dealer Jeff Bridgman showcased some of his rarest pieces and provided commentary on them in this Town & Country article.

While there are variations on the Stars and Stripes, which changed in number throughout the 19th Century as new states joined the union, the mix also includes a rare colorful militia flag designed by Tiffany & Co. valued at $350,000, and the Declaration of Independence woven into a kerchief, circa 1826.

Want to see more flags? Here is a video from Vimeo that features Bridgman talking about antique American flags and other textiles.





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Are performers of the National Anthem required to salute?

Are performers of the National Anthem required to salute? Those in attendance when the National Anthem is performed are asked to stand at attention and salute as appropriate, with a military salute or a heart salute [hand over the heart]. However, by tradition—performers of the National Anthem are given some latitude in saluting.

Here is a recent comment to The Daily Flag, left on a post dated February 13, 2007, about the protocol for the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. The person wrote:

Here is a copy of the “official code” from April 1942. It seems to be an official document.

It does not say the hand needs to be over the heart during the singing. Of course, this may have been changed. All I know is that when my choir sang at a MLB game recently we were told we did not have to place our hands over our hearts. I see very few soloists do this.

The linked document was the result of the National Anthem Committee (of 1942) with representatives of the Music Educators National Conference, members of the War Department, music publishers, and others interested the protocol of the performance and a standardized version of the music.

portion of Key's SSB manuscriptThe United States was a country at war, and those charged with teaching and performing the National Anthem—school teachers, band and orchestra directors, professional musicians and vocalists, et cetera—were seeking codified guidelines. The National Anthem Committee of 1942 provided that.

I wish the document had a different title, because is not legislated law (i.e. “U.S. Code”). Nevertheless, the results of the committee meeting determined how musicians and vocalists have performed the National Anthem ever since.

In summary, those who are performing the National Anthem are not required to salute. Certainly bands and orchestras may stand as so desired, but they do not have to. Individual musicians (who may or may not be standing) and vocalists (who are normally standing) are exempt from saluting during their performances.

It is not mentioned in this document, but it has become a custom for the “conductors” of bands, orchestras, choirs, chorus, et cetera  stand at attention and face the flag (if possible), and render the appropriate salute on behalf of the entire musical ensemble. It is a lovely gesture, and I am always pleased to witness this act of honor.

What does this mean for those of us who are not the “performers,” but are singing the National Anthem anyway. It means we are still supposed to stand at attention, salute, and sing. There is a delicate thread of tension between what is codified law (since 1931), and a practice that exists by tradition but without legislative backing.

Congress has made it very plain that it has no desire or intention to regulate the performance of the National Anthem, even though the committee made specific recommendations about the music. We are at liberty to perform as we wish. This freedom occasionally results in some disastrous renditions, but the court of American approval is swift. Make hash of the Star-Spangled Banner and the public will never let you forget it.

I generally dislike solo performances of the National Anthem, and it places a terrible, unnecessary burden upon the performer to be perfect, especially since these command performances are generally sung acapella. Moreover, I want to sing too, and rarely do soloists offer a sing-along version of the Star-Spangled Banner.

It is my fondest hope that one day, a musical performer of incandescent talent and international fame will walk out to the middle of a sporting field and say to the stands filled with fans, “Will you all rise, and join me in singing the National Anthem,” and then conduct the song for the crowd. Never is the National Anthem more beautiful than when we are all singing together.




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Salute during the National Anthem

Yes. We are supposed to salute the flag during the National Anthem, with either a “heart salute” (right hand over the heart) or a military salute if you are active duty. Veterans are also permitted to present a military salute if so desired.

The United States Code (our giant collection of American law—laid out in great detail) contains the National Anthem Code and the Flag Code, but the two documents are not found in the same section of the U.S. Code. Portions of the Flag Code are frequently cited (on Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day), while the National Anthem Code is rarely mentioned at all.

The National Anthem Code and the Flag Code are laws, but laws predicated on honor and goodwill. No one is compelled to stand at attention and salute, or Pledge allegiance to the flag. Americans have, to borrow a phrase, free will regarding our public display of allegiance and affection for the Anthem and the flag, and indeed, some religious denominations forbid these American rituals.

I will not quote all of the National Anthem Code, but here is the part most people are interested in. Please carefully note Section 2. The National Anthem itself  is the point of honor, so even if we cannot see the flag, we are to turn in the direction of the music, stand at attention and salute.

§301. National anthem

(a) Designation.—The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

(b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—

(1) when the flag is displayed—

(A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

(B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

(C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

(2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.


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U.S. Flag ordered to half-staff


– – – – – – –



As a mark of respect for the victims of the attack perpetrated on July 14, 2016, in Nice, France, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, July 19, 2016. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.



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Half-staffing orders issued for U.S. and Texas flags

The Texas Governor’s office has issued half-staffing orders for the Texas flag, and President Obama has issued half-staffing orders for the U.S. flag, in honor and mourning for the five murdered law enforcement officers in Dallas, Texas.

The half-staffing order for both flags continues through Tuesday, July 12, 2016.

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Happy Independence Day 2016

As we celebrate Independence Day 2016, it is good to think about those who contributed in a mighty way to the exploration of our new country. In the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, we read that on July 4, 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery were west of the Mississippi River, in what is now Kansas, and camped near present-day Atchison.

Sierra Exif JPEG
A one-pounder cannon mounted on the bow of a boat, such as the one fired by Lewis and Clark on Independence Day, 1804.

Except for one man who was bitten by a snake (he lived), it was a good day for the explorers. They fired their small cannon both morning and evening. They took the time to eat some special foods that evening, and drank some whiskey. And I’m sure they toasted George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.

Among other foods, the men ate “buffalo beef” (bison), corn, and beans. In honor of the day, Lewis and Clark named two nearby rivers. They named one “Creek Independence” and the other “4th of July 1804 Creek.”

I don’t know what I’ll be serving for our 4th of July meal, but I do have a bottle of fine whiskey, and as the sun goes down, I will offer a toast to Lewis and Clark, and their courageous men. Happy Independence Day to you, too.










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Canada Day!

Canada Day! There will be lots of celebrations, food, and fireworks.  Here is a short history about the beautiful Maple Leaf flag.

From coast to coast, and southern border to the top of the world, Canadians will sing their national anthem—Oh Canada. Here are three unique videos with the Canadian National Anthem (but not with the changed lyric because I could not find one). I am especially fond of the last video, and this link will explain why, so read it first.

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U.S. Flag displayed backwards

US flag backward with Texas flag US and Texas flags in store








(Photos by Deborah Hendrick for The Daily Flag News)

These U.S. flag and Texas flag displays are inside the same store. The irony is that for more than a year, the two flags in the left photo were messed up the other way. Previously the U.S. flag was hung correctly, but the Texas flag was flipped, so the white stripe was on the right. Then someone “fixed” them. A good rule to remember is that the stars in our American flag (or the Lone Star) always point up, or to their own right—or to the left as we face the flags.

I especially like hoist displays of the flag, and I think it is under-utilized. The flag display shown on the right is gorgeous, and it’s the first thing you see when you come into the store. The store air-conditioning was just enough to make the flags gently flutter.






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Not found in the Flag Code

What the Flag Code doesn’t say

ScreenHunter_251 Jun. 24 15.44

There were a lot of news stories last week about flag retirement ceremonies, held in conjunction with Flag Day. Here are excerpts from three that I found especially troubling due to misinformation.  I edited them to remove names and other identifying information because I like these people and I don’t want to embarrass them: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the American Legion.

What the Flag Code says about retiring our American flag is short and succinct:

§8. Respect for flag:  (k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

We are given great latitude in how we conduct flag retirements. I am very grateful to the organizations that conduct these ceremonies; it is an honorable and welcome service that they perform. But imagine my surprise when I found a news story about a flag retirement ceremony that said this,

“ … the scouts recently participated in a flag retirement ceremony. This ceremony is necessary when a flag has become too worn to be displayed. In these cases, the respectful way to dispose of the  flag is for it to be burned. Only three entities can officially retire a flag. They are VFW posts, Scout troops and American Legion posts.” 

What? That’s not what the Flag Code says. Anyone can retire the flag. The Daughters of the American Revolution would be quite surprised to be told they can’t retire their own flags. I frequently encourage families to have their own flag retirement ceremonies. Get the children to write some sweet script, and take a moment to talk about important flags in American history.  I am willing to trust the average American to retire his own flag. We are all official when it comes to retiring the flag.

From another news story:

 “The various elements of the flag … The stars, the red and white stripes and the blue background are included on the flag for a specific purpose.  Once the description has been read, the flag is cut apart.

The stars are saved and will be presented to veterans at a later date [ … ]. The stripes are individually cut off the flag and placed in a fire. The fire container must only be used for flag retirement and nothing else. During the burning portion of the ceremony, no one is to speak and silence has to be maintained out of respect.  [ … ]  Flags are burned one at a time and only after a flag is completely burned will the next one be burned. Silence is observed throughout the entire ceremony.

In the Flag Code, directly above Subsection (k) is Subsection (j) which says [ … ] The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. [ … .]

If the flag is “considered a living thing,” then dismembering a flag so old and worn out that it’s ready for retirement is rather egregious in my opinion. The flag has already served in honor—now it’s faded, ripped and torn, tattered on the fly.  Isn’t that enough?

And why would cutting out the stars and saving them (set aside to be given away later) be more important than the stripes? The flag was never meant to be parceled out in bits and pieces. That’s why we set it on fire in a ceremony, and burn it to ashes. Otherwise we could be making quilts out of the stripes—or kites, and patriotically flying them on the 4th of July.

Our most popular flag myth

And I read this:

 “ … flags should be retired for a number of reasons. The first indication a flag has become unserviceable is faded colors, but [ … ]  a flag should be retired if it has touched the ground. It’s just been a principle of the flag etiquette for years in the country, which is to keep all flags from touching the ground … . “

“When it comes to proper disposal, [ … ] it’s best to leave it to the experts [said the American Legion commander, who ] discourages anyone from burning their own flag, and invites area residents to turn their worn out flags over to the American Legion or any other veterans organization.”

No where in the Flag Code does it say that if a flag touches the ground, it should be destroyed. Yes, every effort should be made to keep the flag from touching the ground and other things beneath it (landscaping for example, and automobiles at giant car dealerships), but destroying a perfectly good flag is unnecessary, and not supported by the text. I am certain if those who codified the Flag Code meant for us to retire a dropped flag, they would have mentioned it specifically.

Flags fall down. Home flags mounted on diagonal poles are especially vulnerable to being blown out of the mount. The wind can pull one out of your hands while putting it up or taking it down (it’s happened to me). It’s a good idea to have a back up flag, if the flag does get dirty, but it doesn’t have to be destroyed, it just needs to be laundered or sent to the dry cleaners.

From the same newspaper article:

How to properly retire a U.S. flag:  Once a U.S. flag becomes worn, frayed or dirty, the flag is considered unserviceable and unable to properly fly. In order to suitably retire a U.S. or other American national flag, several procedures are to be followed in order to avoid any disrespect or desecration. According to the Veterans Department of Affairs and U.S. Flag Code, here are the steps to burn a flag: (my italics–DH)

1. Prepare a fire large enough to sufficiently burn the entire flag.

2. Fold the flag in a customary triangle manner.

3. Place the flag on the fire carefully and respectfully.

4. Individuals should salute or recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as observe a moment of silence.

5. Allow the flag to be completely consumed.

6. Once the fire is cool, collect the ashes and any pieces of the flag.

7. Bury the ashes.

[The American Legion commander said] “ in order to ensure the flag is disposed properly, the flag must be given to a veteran’s organization. [He] encourages anyone with an unserviceable flag to donate it to any local American Legion post.

The Department of Veterans Affairs compiled a 52-page booklet about American history, veterans, the flag, and the scope of the department. No where in the booklet does it say anything about flag retirement ceremonies except to repeat the same section from the Flag Code:

§8. Respect for flag:  (k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Lastly, from the American Legion’s own website, in a section called Flag Myths, it identifies this myth:

You must destroy the flag when it touches the ground.
As long as the flag remains suitable for display, the flag may continue to be displayed as a symbol of our great country.

As I said at the beginning, I am grateful to civic and service organizations who perform the job of retiring our American flags. It’s an important service and it’s a big job, too. And they can choose any ceremony they want, but please make sure your script says, “This is how we like to retire the flag,” because it’s highly inappropriate and misleading to say “this is what the Flag Code says” when it doesn’t.

And don’t tell me I can’t retire my own flag.