The third Friday of each September is set aside by law, as National POW-MIA Recognition Day, and today I want to cover the protocol for flying the POW-MIA flag. Tomorrow I’ll write about the flag, and how it came to be, and what it means to Americans.
Tomorrow the U.S. Flag flies at full staff, with the POW-MIA flag, on the same pole flying directly underneath. Federal and military installations do not fly state flags, which is why the POW-MIA flag flies on the same pole.
The 105th Congress designated by law, with the passage of Section 1082(g) within the 1998 Defense Authorization Act—(linked here, but I have included the entire text at the end of this article), that the POW-MIA flag is to be flown at all Federal and U.S. Military Installations on these six days: Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, POW-MIA Recognition Day, and Veterans Day. On holidays when the National flag is half-staffed, then the POW-MIA flag is half-staffed also.
The federal installations are:
The Capitol building and the White House, in Washington D.C.
The Korean War and Vietnam Veterans War Memorials,
Every National Cemetery
Any building containing the official offices of the Secretary of State
The offices of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs
The offices of the Director of the Selective Service System
Every Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Every U.S. Post Office (which are not permitted to fly state flags)
All national parks and national monument sites
The information below should be carefully noted because of the specificity.
(2) In addition to the days specified in paragraph (1) of this
subsection, POW/MIA flag display days include –
(A) in the case of display at the World War II Memorial, Korean
War Veterans Memorial, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial (required by
subsection (d)(3) of this section), any day on which the United
States flag is displayed;
(B) in the case of display at medical centers of the Department
of Veterans Affairs (required by subsection (d)(7) of this
section), any day on which the flag of the United States is
(C) in the case of display at United States Postal Service post
offices (required by subsection (d)(8) of this section), the last
business day before a day specified in paragraph (1) that in any
year is not itself a business day.
Sections (A) and (B) mean that the POW-MIA flag is to always be flown at these locations on any day the U.S. flag is displayed. In practice, this would be very day of the year.
Section (C), which applies to U.S. Post Offices, means that the POW-MIA flag is to be flown the day before the designated holiday, if the day falls on a national holiday when the post office is not open (Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day).
How should civilians fly the POW-MIA flag?
Last spring I contacted the office of one of my federal senators representing Texas, Sen. John Cornyn. I requested a finding from the Congressional Research Service, which exists to support members of Congress and their staffs on research inquiries. I received it in July.
I was flummoxed by the fact that the precise instructions for flying the POW-MIA flag only addresses federal and military installations, yet is carefully outlined in Title 36, Section 902 of the United States Code, which is written for civilians.
The Congressional Research Service was unable to find any further instruction regarding civilian flag protocol for the POW-MIA flag. Other VSOs (veterans service organizations) have asked for clarifying legislation, but nothing has changed yet. Civilian protocol is silent on this problem.
Incredibly, protocol for POW-MIA flag, the most highly esteemed flag of all VSOs, is not addressed for civilians in the U.S. Code, which is written for civilians. So it becomes necessary to establish a civilian POW-MIA flag protocol based on existing law.
Allow me to use the state of Texas as an example. All state flags may fly equal to, but never higher than the U.S. flag, if flown on separate poles. The Texas flag code says that only the U.S. flag can fly above the Texas flag, if the two flags are flown on the same pole. According to the Texas flag code, the POW-MIA flag could never be flown above the Texas state flag. Other states follow the same protocol. The flag code never changes the order of precedence.
The Conclusion for civilians—how to do it
Civilians are not required to fly the POW-MIA flag, but if you want to, this is how to do it, after you sort out the flag code and flag precedence.
On the six designated holidays, when the U.S. Code calls for the POW-MIA flag to be flown underneath and next to the U.S. flag, and if there is only one flagpole in use, do not fly the state flag.
On the six designated holidays, if there are two poles in use, the POW-MIA flag flies underneath and next to the U.S. flag, and the state flag flies on the next pole. On non-holidays, the POW-MIA flag can still be flown underneath and next to the U.S. flag, because it is not higher than a state flag.
If there are three poles in use, and it is NOT one of the six designated POW-MIA flag flying days, then the POW-MIA flag would fly third in order of precedence, or on the third pole. It could still be flown underneath and next to the U.S. flag (which is the preferred position), and the third pole could be used for a city or corporate flag. The point is, the POW-MIA flag is never flown above a state flag, but may be flown equal to the U.S. flag, a state flag, and so on. If the location provides for many flagpoles and flags, then subsequent flags (after U.S. and state) are flown in order of congressional authorization (or incorporation), which is chronological.
I have come to this conclusion after detailed research and careful consultation with federal and military experts. It is a reasoned and thoughtful conclusion that adheres to the protocol and etiquette of all flags concerned, and in the absence of further legislation, I stand by it.