We all know the story of the U.S. flag, right? And how to display our flag, right? Well, maybe not everything. Just in case, I’ll run through a bit of history and a bit of law. Flag Day, June 14, celebrates the adoption of the first U.S. Flag in 1777. It is also the birthday of the U.S. Army, which happened two years earlier. President Woodrow Wilson established June 14 as Flag Day in 1919, and the Congress made it official in 1949. Of course Troy has the largest Flag Day Parade in the country.
The current U.S. flag is the 27th in our history. The arrangement and proportions of the flag weren’t established officially until 1912, so up until then, flags could and did vary in how the stars were arranged. At first a star and stripe were to be added for each new state, but the stripe part got too awkward. In 1818, it was decided that a star for each new state would be added on the 4th of July following the admission of the state to the union. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an Executive Order providing for the current arrangement of stars and stripes, and our current flag has been in use since July 4, 1960, when Hawaii’s star was added.
As to display and use of the flag, the first flag code was adopted in 1923 by a National Flag Conference consisting of representatives of the armed forces and many patriotic organizations. The U.S. Congress didn’t adopt the code until 1942. Though it lists many detailed rules for flag use, it imposes no penalties for misuse. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions that it is up to the states to impose penalties.
The flag code states that “the flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.” It is a very long document, available online, so I will cite the highlights. The flag may be displayed on a flag staff next to a building from sunrise to sunset…but should only be displayed at night if illuminated. So if you as a private person have a flag on a pole, raise and lower it daily unless you have a light. If you have a flag on a staff angling out from your house, put it up each morning and take it down at sunset. If you find that onerous, display the flag on holidays.
There are very detailed instructions for carrying the flag in parades and displaying it at speeches or ceremonies. In general, it has to be a bit higher than a state or other flag, and to its right. It may not be draped over a car or anything, except a casket. For a burial, the union (stars) go at the head and left shoulder of the casket, but it must be removed before the casket is lowered into a grave.
When hanging, a flag may never touch anything beneath it, and it should never touch the ground. It may never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery, nor as decoration. It may not be attached to anything nor used for advertising, nor be embroidered on anything nor put on athletic uniforms. A flag patch may be put on the uniforms of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. Anyone may wear a flag lapel pin over the left side- the heart.
“When a flag is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” Sometimes boy and girl scout troops or American Legion or VFW groups hold flag disposal events. But you could do it yourself, in a dignified way.
So I will merely urge you to follow the code. It is wonderful to be patriotic and display the flag, but to me the patriotism disappears when the flag is allowed to become a rag. To me, the same people who rant and rave over people who desecrate the flag are doing the same thing when they display a faded, now- pink and gray flag or wear a tee shirt with the flag unflatteringly spread over a bosom or shorts with the flag over a butt or keep a hat on while saluting the flag and singing the National Anthem.