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Flying the American flag with respect: what you need to know

Flying the American flag with respect: what you need to know

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Old Glory will be out in force this weekend, as Americans display flags in observance of Memorial Day. And, of course, two other special flag-flying days are not far behind: Flag Day (June 14) and Independence Day (July 4). Here are some reminders of flag etiquette: 


Only a flag that is properly lit should be flown beyond daylight hours. (Porch lights, streetlights and even a full moon are acceptable light sources.)

Generally, the flag should hang vertically and be suspended so that its folds fall free. However, the stripes may be displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, with the union uppermost and to the flag’s own right (to the observer’s left).

The flag should not touch anything beneath it, including the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.


The U.S. flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously.

It 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 the national anthem, whichever comes last.


The 13 stars and 13 stripes of the original flag represented the 13 American colonies. The 13 stars were placed in a circle, perhaps symbolizing that no one colony was more important than the next. Today’s 13 stripes still commemorate the original colonies. The number of stars has grown to 50, one for each state in the Union.

Care and disposal

If a flag becomes soiled, clean it or replace it. Ditto for small rips or tears: Mend or replace. You are not required to destroy a flag if it touches the ground. As long as it remains suitable for display, continue to fly it. When it is time for a flag to be replaced, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.


The flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. (Regimental colors, state flags and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.)

Folding the flag

When folded properly, the U.S. flag is shaped like a triangle with only the stars showing. The process takes 13 folds, the same number as the original colonies.

Flags at half-staff till noon Monday

The flag is lowered to half-staff as a sign of mourning. The lowering is ordered either by the president, for national remembrance, or by the governor, for local remembrance, such as the death of a member of the armed forces. The heads of departments and agencies of the federal government also may order that the flag be flown at half-staff on buildings, grounds and naval vessels under their jurisdiction.

The U.S. Flag Code specifies that on Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon, then raised to the top of the staff. That action was ordered this week by governors in Nebraska and Iowa; President Barack Obama issued a proclamation requesting states to take that step.

Sources: World-Herald archive and U.S. Flag Code

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