With the recent controversy surrounding the raising and lowering of flags, one has to wonder what flags mean to us. Clearly flags are more than mere banners of cloth stitched together to look nice, but rather they are symbols which carry weight, meaning and responsibility. If our flags do truly matter, our care of the American flag reflects how we see them in our daily lives, and how we see ourselves as Americans. According to the Flag Code, flags are the representations of living nations and therefore are living emblems themselves. Their maintenance and upkeep should mirror our allegiance to them. When caring for our U.S. flag, remember that it is not just an arrangement of stars and stripes but rather it is a symbol of unity connecting all Americans together. Our flag may be red, white and blue but it symbolizes an American heart that beats pure gold—encompassing our collective struggles, triumphs, victories, and defeats. How we care for, maintain and protect our American flag ultimately reflects how we care for our country, ourselves and each other.
The Flag Code governs when and how American flags are to be displayed as well as how to show respect and care for the flag. These guidelines includes a list of specific holidays, days of observance and days of special recognition on which the American flag should be flown as well as when, where and how to display the American flag. Did you know that our national flag should be flown at half-staff on Memorial Day until noon only or that is should be flown all day on Independence Day? In order to get the best lifespan, the American flag should be flown daily from sunrise to sunset. Flags may fly twenty- four hours but should be illuminated at night.
The Flag Code also covers guidelines on how the national flags should be displayed with state flags and international flags, religious flags and custom flags. International usage forbids flags of different nations being flown above one another. To display flags of different nations, they must be the same size and flown on different staffs or flagpoles of the same height. The US flag should be on the leftmost side from the most common viewpoint to show its importance before all others. State flags, city flags and banners or pennants of businesses and societies must all be flown below the American flag. The American flag must be hoisted first and lowered last.
Care and maintenance of our national flag is just as significant as what the flag represents. Even when folding and disposing of the flag, proper steps should be taken. There should be 13 folds when folding an American flag. Each fold represents a different aspect of honor. For example, the first fold symbolizes life and the second fold signifies our belief in eternal life. The 13th fold, when the stars of the American flag are uppermost, should remind us of our nation’s motto, “In God We Trust.” Once folded, the flag takes on an appearance of a cocked hat and reminds us of the soldiers who served under George Washington and the Sailors and Marines (who served under Captain John Paul Jones) who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving the rights, privileges and freedom we enjoy today.
The responsibility, care and maintenance of the U. S. flag belongs to all Americans and not just those who agree with policies, military actions or certain laws. If America is truly to be the land of the free and home of the brave, we have no choice but to bravely care for the symbol that unites us. As with all things, the purpose of etiquette is not to restrict use but rather to instill respect and common courtesy. Flag etiquette matters because we as Americans matter. So when hoisting Old Glory this Independence Day, take special care--- you hold America in your hands. Feel free to visit Carrot Top's Flag Etiquette Guide for a complete listing of the U.S. flag code or check in with your local chapter of the American Legion for assistance on other tips on how to care for your American flag.