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Friday, July 2, 2010


Flag Etiquette


I grew up pledging allegiance to the Flag in public school. I viewed the Flag as it was lowered to half mass with tears in my eyes after the assassination of the President, John F. Kennedy. I took the oath of enlistment serving 24 years in the US Navy where I saluted the colors raised each morning and recovered at sunset. I dipped the flag with respect to foreign nation ships and the passing of our allies. I have folded the flag from caskets and made presentation to those remaining love ones in behalf of our grateful nation. I have removed my hat and placed my hand over my heart at Rodeos or during the passing of the flag in parades. The Flag of the United States or America has long been a part of me as I am a part of it and for which it stands. The flag means freedom and liberty. The flag means taking responsibility to protect these values so that all men are given the respect due just as our flag which represents each of us. God bless the USA.

The Flag Code, which formalizes and unifies the traditional ways in which we give respect to the flag, also contains specific instructions on how the flag is not to be used. They are:
  • 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 a drapery, or for covering a speakers desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.
  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard
  • 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, fireman, policeman and members of patriotic organizations.
  • The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
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.
The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.
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.

Note: Most American Legion Posts regularly conduct a dignified flag burning ceremony, often on Flag Day, June 14th. Many Cub Scout Packs, Boy Scout Troops, and Girl Scout Troops retire flags regularly as well. Contact your local American Legion Hall or Scout Troop to inquire about the availability of this service.

Displaying the Flag Outdoors
When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting from a window, balcony, or a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half staff.
When it is displayed from the same flagpole with another flag - of a state, community, society or Scout unit - the flag of the United States must always be at the top except that the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for Navy personnel when conducted by a Naval chaplain on a ship at sea.
When the flag is displayed over a street, it should be hung vertically, with the union to the north or east. If the flag is suspended over a sidewalk, the flag's union should be farthest from the building.
When flown with flags of states, communities, or societies on separate flag poles which are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor - to its own right.
..The other flags may be smaller but none may be larger.
..No other flag ever should be placed above it.
..The flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered.
When flown with the national banner of other countries, each flag must be displayed from a separate pole of the same height. Each flag should be the same size. They should be raised and lowered simultaneously. The flag of one nation may not be displayed above that of another nation.

Raising and Lowering the Flag
The flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously. Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset. It should be illuminated if displayed at night.
The flag of the United States of America is saluted as it is hoisted and lowered. The salute is held until the flag is unsnapped from the halyard or through the last note of music, whichever is the longest.

Displaying the Flag Indoors
When on display, the flag is accorded the place of honor, always positioned to its own right. Place it to the right of the speaker or staging area or sanctuary. Other flags should be to the left.
The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states, localities, or societies are grouped for display.
When one flag is used with the flag of the United States of America and the staffs are crossed, the flag of the United States is placed on its own right with its staff in front of the other flag.
When displaying the flag against a wall, vertically or horizontally, the flag's union (stars) should be at the top, to the flag's own right, and to the observer's left.

Parading and Saluting the Flag
When carried in a procession, the flag should be to the right of the marchers. When other flags are carried, the flag of the United States may be centered in front of the others or carried to their right. When the flag passes in a procession, or when it is hoisted or lowered, all should face the flag and salute.

The Salute
To salute, all persons come to attention. Those in uniform give the appropriate formal salute. Citizens not in uniform salute by placing their right hand over the heart and men with head cover should remove it and hold it to left shoulder, hand over the heart. Members of organizations in formation salute upon command of the person in charge.

The Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem
The pledge of allegiance should be rendered by standing at attention, facing the flag, and saluting.
When the national anthem is played or sung, citizens should stand at attention and salute at the first note and hold the salute through the last note. The salute is directed to the flag, if displayed, otherwise to the music.

The Flag in Mourning
To place the flag at half staff, hoist it to the peak for an instant and lower it to a position half way between the top and bottom of the staff. The flag is to be raised again to the peak for a moment before it is lowered. On Memorial Day the flag is displayed at half staff until noon and at full staff from noon to sunset.
The flag is to be flown at half staff in mourning for designated, principal government leaders and upon presidential or gubernatorial order.
When used to cover a casket, the flag should be placed with the union at the head and over the left shoulder. It should not be lowered into the grave.

Equestrian Drill Teams

Mary Hill-Hebbel presenting the Nation Ensign during ceremonies riding as part of the Bellville Heritage Cowgirls Mounted Drill Team shown left.

** No flag on the team should be higher or larger than the American Flag (Tall flag poles are necessary to carry our Nation's flag).

** No other flags should be excused (leave) the arena before the American Flag.

** Ornaments are a required piece of equipment on any staff that carries an American Flag.
Correct ornaments are:
   * A Ball
   * A Spearhead
   * An Eagle - (If an Eagle is used, it must fly facing forward. Hint: put a small sticker on the flag pole just above your hand marking the place where your Eagle flies forward. This way you do not have to keep looking up to check the position of the Eagle. Or, to make it more simple, use a ball ornament instead)

The American Flag.....
** Should never follow other flags or riders. This includes the 'Chevron' (also called a 'Vee' or 'Wedge') maneuver in which the American Flag should always be at the front point. (Exception: When a drill team is performing a rotating circle, the American Flag can be included in the formation as long as it leaves the formation first and in a leading position)

** Should always be to the far right (its own right) of all other flags and riders when positioned abreast (next to).

** Should never travel backwards (i.e. the horse carrying the flag should not back up) which historically denotes retreat.

** When performing the 'Crack the Whip' maneuver, the American Flag should be on the outside and the team should be traveling in a counter-clockwise direction. (If the team traveled clockwise, the American Flag would technically be to the left of the other riders which is incorrect) 

** When performing the 'Pinwheel' maneuver, and using two American Flags, the American Flag should be on the outside and the team should be traveling counter-clockwise. If the two American Flags are used as pivots (in the center), the team should be traveling clockwise.

** All other flags should dip in respect when the American Flag enters the arena. (This rule can be relaxed when performing an actual drill - However, during opening ceremonies, for example, all the other flags should dip) The American Flag never salutes (dips to) any other person or thing! It must be carried straight upright at all times, never leaning from side to side or forward or back regardless of the speed being executed by the horse and rider.

** The American Flag should never touch anything beneath it although it is not necessary to retire an American Flag that has touched the ground.

** If it falls, it should be rescued immediately and restored to its correct position. (NOTE: The American Flag should never be carried by a horse and/or rider with questionable capabilities.)

The National Ensign when flown from a ship, port or Yacht Club often uses a maritime flag pole with a gaff pole as shown. The Gaff is separate from the main Pole and the display is as follows.
Sea Tradition Predates the Code

There exists a tradition predating these guidelines.  A tradition still followed today by the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, the United States Power Squadron, the United States Merchant Marine and many yacht clubs.

The basis for this tradition goes back to the time sailing ships plied the seas. Because of all the sail carried by the rigging of these vessels the flag of a nation could not be clearly viewed if placed at the top of the main mast. Instead, the national flag was displayed on the gaff, which is a spar extending from the mast and used to support the top of a sail. The gaff was used because it came first and the flag was more visible.

Over time, this became the place of honor to display a national flag. As the use of sail gave way to mechanical power, the tradition was maintained by displaying the national flag on a gaff-rigged mast when at sea and on a staff on the stern (rear) of a boat or ship in port."

But We’re Not At Sea!

So what about onshore display of the flag. If a facility has a simple flagpole then the guidelines outlined in the U.S. Code above would certainly govern how the flag is to be flown. However, U.S. Navy and Coast Guard shore facilities as well as many yacht clubs use a flagpole which is considered to represent the mast of a vessel. (See the picture above.) That flagpole may also have a gaff (a pole extending, at an angle, from the main mast) in keeping with maritime tradition.

United States Navy NTP 13(B), Chapter 8, Section 801b (3) which covers the Display of National Ensign (U.S. Flag) at U.S. Naval Shore Activities, states "The national ensign will be flown at the peak of the gaff. Half-mast position is half way between top and bottom of gaff."

In addition, according to the National Flag Foundation "when the U.S. Flag is displayed on a gaff-rigged pole, the organization can determine for themselves what display will best convey the love, honor and respect which they feel for the flag."

But It Looks Wrong!

What causes concern with some people is that when the U.S. Flag is flown on a gaff, other flags may be physically higher than it. This is proper because no other flag is above the national flag on the same halyard (rope.) On a United States ship at sea you will note that fleet flags, signal flags, officer’s flags, even courtesy flags of foreign nations are displayed in the rigging and may be physically higher than the U.S. Flag. In the case of a gaff-rigged flagpole at a shore facility, fleet flags, signal flags, officer’s flags and even yacht club burgees (flags) may be physically higher than the U. S. Flag.

We have many members who are veterans and served to preserve freedom and the way of life our flag represents. All of our members are proud that we display our nation’s emblem correctly and in the place of honor according to maritime tradition.


  1. This is a Great Piece on The American Flag...I too am a Proud American,and Wave My Flag on the front of my home..It means so much to our Great Country...And to me...

  2. This reminds me of something. I remember the first time I heard "God Bless The USA". I was six years old, and it was a mid-western dusky afternoon. It was at a rodeo, and before anything began, we all stood up with our hands over out hearts and listened to Lee Greenwood piped over the loudspeakers. I think it's the earliest memory I have of a song reaching down and touching my heart. It's a feeling I can't describe...but where the song abruptly pauses was definitely the key moment for me. I plan to write about it on our website: Thanks for your post!

  3. To all patriotic people, this is really a proud thing to do. Learning the proper flag etiquette and applying them. You can learn more at