From the Editor: If your American flag touches the ground and nobody sees, it’s still wrong
Ryan Summerlin July 1, 2014
Around patriotic holidays such as the Fourth of July, American flags decorate the sides of buildings, street lamps, and vehicles. Small ones wave from backpacks; flag images show up on T-shirts, mailboxes, tattoos, ball caps and paper plates.
As ubiquitous as it is, and commercialized as it is, it’s no wonder some citizens may overlook the traditional treatment of the flag. It’s OK to be cavalier about your flag-emblazoned Spring 2014 outdoor pillows, but that 30-foot by 60-foot flag flying high on the flag pole deserves special respect as dictated in official Flag Code.
Since not all of us remember what we learned as Scouts, courtesy of the American Legion, here is a refresher course on flag etiquette. There are no penalties against violators, just ridicule from neighbors.
“My biggest observation is that many people display a flag 24 hours a day without proper lighting,” said Duane Dailey of American Legion Post 88 of the Granby area.“The flag remains outside, and it becomes worn out and is left tattered and unserviceable. Many flags in the county are very worn out and need to be replaced.”
According to Flag Code, originally adopted by the 77th Congress on June 22, 1942 (revised a few times since), flags should be displayed sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flagstaffs in the open. They can be displayed 24 hours a day “if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness,” meaning a light specifically placed to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable as such by a casual observer, according to “Let’s be right on flag etiquette,” by the American Legion.
• The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag (nylon, synthetic etc.) is displayed.
• When they do get weathered, it’s perfectly OK to launder or dry-clean them. It’s also OK to repair them, as long as not cutting them down to unofficial dimensions.
• The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise. And the flag should never be fastened, displayed, used or stored in a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled or damaged.
By the way, it’s a myth you must destroy a flag after it touches the ground. Dust it off, vow it won’t happen again, and display it with pride.
• And if the flag “is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” This is referred to as “Flag retirement.” It should be done “discreetly so that the act of destruction is not perceived as a protest or desecration.” In Grand County the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have flag retirement ceremonies from time to time with Legionnaire-assistance. These organizations render an important community service by properly disposing old, worn, tattered, frayed and faded U.S. Flags.
• Flags should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously, and all present should stand at attention facing the flag with right hand over the heart.
• And when those in uniform carry the flag in a parade, men should remove their hats and all those on the sidelines and everyone present should stand with hand over heart. Veterans present and those in uniform should do a military salute.
• The flag should not be displayed on a float in a parade except from a staff. The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle.
• Although Flag code is silent on this, a rule of thumb is the size of the flag should always be about one-fourth the height of the flag pole.
• The flag should never be used to cover a ceiling. And, the flag should never be apparel, bedding or drapery.
• And, the flag “should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.”
The flag “represents the many freedoms, rights and responsibilities not entrusted to the citizens of any other country in the world,” writes American Legion in a forward. “Therefore, the proper display and use of the United States flag is the responsibility of every American citizen.”