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Art Callaham: American flag etiquette explained

February 19, 2012|By ART CALLAHAM

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about our nation’s “Pledge of Allegiance” to our flag. I received several kind and supportive comments about the column. Some asked for my reference sources, to which I admit most of the information came from searching the Internet. I usually look at two or three different reference sources to ensure the information is essentially the same before I use it in my column.

I was pleased that others found the information contained in my column interesting and informative. I, too, learned some new “stuff” while doing that simple research. Sadly, in my opinion, today we don’t know as much as what our forefathers knew, particularly in the civics, history and geography arenas. And sadder still, I fear our children are learning less in those areas than we know.

No judgment here, but it seems to me that younger folks today find playing “Modern Warfare 33” much more interesting than reading James McPherson’s historical account of the Battle of Gettysburg. Go figure. I still have faith that there is a silver lining out there somewhere. But enough of the soapbox rhetoric.

I attended an event last week and while talking to one of my friends, he noted that the American flag was not displayed properly. Before my friend could rectify the situation, the program started. Afterwards, I decided a column about American flag etiquette and protocol might be in order. Here are some rules concerning our flag taken from a section of federal law generally referred to as the “Flag Code.”

“The American Flag should be lighted at all times, either by sunlight or by an appropriate light source and should be flown in fair weather, unless the flag is designed for inclement weather use. The Flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal. The Flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a Flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen and members of patriotic organizations. The Flag should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure or drawing of any kind placed on it or attached to it.

“When the Flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the Flag, it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously. When a Flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.”

When the American flag is displayed or carried (for example, in a parade or procession), three general rules apply:

• In a static display on a pole, the American flag is always displayed in the prominent position (forward of other flags, in a center position) or on the flag’s right (your left if you are facing the flag).

• When carried, the flag is always forward of other flags or if in a line of flags on the flag’s right.

• When displayed on a horizontal halyard or other attachment, the flag’s union (the blue portion with the stars) should be up and to the flag’s right.

OK, now that you know some of the rules about our flag, do you know what color of red, white and blue should be used? The official specification for federal procurements of U.S. flags is set by the General Services Administration. At the Defense Technology Information Center is GSA “Federal Specification, Flag, National, United States of America and Flag, Union Jack.” It specifies the colors by reference to “Standard Color Cards of America.” This is a color system designed for textile use — appropriate, since flags are made of cloth. The specifications are: No. 70180 Old Glory Red; No. 70001 White; and No. 70075 Old Glory Blue.

Ever see an American flag with gold fringe? That’s the Army and Air Force version of the “national colors.” Both services use this version of the Flag for display with other organizational colors and during parades. The seaborne services do not use the gold fringe; their versions of the national colors will be displayed with red, white and blue cord and tassels.

I could go on for pages, but I’ll suggest you do your own research and gain a greater sense of love and respect for our flag.


Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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