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Protocol questions—Parades, the Pledge, and the National Anthem

That’s a lot of title, but all the elements are inextricably linked. Yesterday I didn’t post an article on The Daily Flag because I was doing research and answering questions. I am not a flag expert, but I am good at research, and I have patience, a highly useful skill in research. If you ask me a question, I will do my best to give you the right answer. The right answer—the protocol—is often found in precedence or tradition, and not the U.S. Flag Code, or it may come from military protocol.

A recurring question, a two–part question, is which comes first: the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem. The U.S. Code, which is written for civilians, is silent on this. As a school girl, my classmates and I said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning: facing the U.S. flag, standing beside our desks, hands over hearts. This was in Texas, and there was a U.S. flag and a Texas flag in every classroom. (Some sets were small, some were large, and some were silky with gold fringe—but the flags were ubiquitous.)

We sang the Star-Spangled Banner when all the classes were assembled in the auditorium, gymnasium, et cetera. Sometimes we said the Pledge at the same time, but generally we did not, because we’d previously said the Pledge in our classrooms. That was a protocol decided by the school administration.

Which comes first?

Yesterday I spoke with a woman who was planning a large meeting. There was not going to be a color guard—the flags would be in place when the meeting started. She wanted to know which came first? The Pledge or the National Anthem, because a soloist was going to sing the Anthem. I suggested to her, based on previous experience and simplicity, to say the Pledge first. But there is no civilian protocol in the U.S. Code that says it must be done this way.

The Chair, to start the meeting, could ask for all to rise and say the Pledge, and all would sit down. After welcoming remarks and introduction of the soloist, then all could rise again while soloist sang the Anthem.

Would the presence of a color guard have changed the line-up? It seems to me that after the color guard posted the colors, the most natural thing in the world would be to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Last night I watched the All-Star game on television. Singer Sheryl Crow sang the National Anthem while accompanying herself with the guitar. I didn’t see the entire opening, but I’m pretty sure the Pledge of Allegiance was not said, because the National Anthem was traditional to the event, and it was sufficient.


Would you all rise …

Another frequent question concerns the color guard and saluting the flag. On this question, the U.S. Code is explicit: all stand, and all salute, in the manner appropriate to your circumstance. In a parade, most of the time everyone is already standing when the color guard passes by, so you salute and hold the salute, until the color guard has passed abreast of your spot. If you are seated in a formal reviewing stand, you stand (probably all simultaneously) then sit again.


riding club with colors What if the parade you are watching has more than one set of colors? Last Christmas Larry and I watched a parade and I lost count of the color guards that passed in review, because I think every "group" that participated in the parade was carrying the U.S. flag.

There was an official color guard to lead off the parade, then there were high school marching bands, riding clubs, Shriners, county mounted posse, other civic clubs (Lions, Rotary), the VFW, et cetera. Well, I saluted (hand on my heart) every time an obvious color guard passed in front of me.



Another question concerned music during the presentation of the colors: Is it appropriate to play music, even patriotic music, during the presentation of the colors? Here are the exact words from the Flag code:

Section 9. Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag

During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the
flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present except
those in uniform should face the flag and stand at attention with the
right hand over the heart. Those present in uniform should render the
military salute. When not in uniform, men should remove their headdress
with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being
over the heart. Aliens should stand at attention. The salute to the flag
in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

(Added Pub. L. 105-225, Sec. 2(a), Aug. 12, 1998, 112 Stat. 1498.)

It does not address the inclusion of music, but I don’t think one can make an argument from silence and assume that it is ok. The presentation of the colors is a outstanding enough occasion that it does not need further adornment, or "gussied up." Surely we can bear a moment of silence while the flag goes by.