Originally Published: August 15, 2017 6:03 a.m.
Half-staff protocols for the American flag
When it comes to lowering the American flag to half-staff, local veterans and flag displayers say they follow the guidance of national, state and local leaders as a recognition of highest honor, generally for the death of a prominent federal, state or local official. At times, state and local leaders, including the governor or mayor, or leaders of a civic organization, have opted to lower their own flags to honor a distinguished individual or public servant.
On March 1, 1954, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a proclamation related to lowering the American flag to half-staff to signify a nation in mourning.
The proclamation declared that the nation’s flag would fly at half-staff at all federal buildings, grounds and on naval vessels for 30 days at the death of a president or former president; 10 days for a vice president or the chief justice, or retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, or the speaker of the House of Representatives. For certain other lower officials of the government, the flag is to be flown at half-staff from the day of death until internment.
For a U.S. senator, representative, the flag should be flown half-staff on the day and day after that individual’s death. Upon the death of a state’s governor, the half-staff status should be employed from the day of death until internment.
“The president may order the flag to be flown at half-staff to mark the death of other officials, former officials or foreign dignitaries. In addition to these occasions, the president may order half-staff display of the flag after other tragic events,” according to a report from the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School.
The 9-11 terrorist attacks led to such a presidential proclamation. In Arizona, the death of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots led to a state governor’s decree.
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Guidelines for Flag Display
• Though there are no federal code penalties, the language of the federal code “makes clear that the flag is a living symbol.”
• Traditionally, the flag should be displayed in public from sunrise to sunset. If the flag is displayed at all times it should be illuminated during darkness.
• In a group of flags, the American flag should be at the center and the highest point.
• Do not let the flag touch anything beneath it.
• Fasten or display it in a way so that it is not damaged or dirtied.
• Do not place anything on the flag, such as other insignia or letters.
• Do not use it as apparel.
• Do not use it for advertising or promotion purposes.
Roger Lesley in Chino Valley remembers with clarity standing in his first-grade class with his hand over his heart after learning how to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Stars and Stripes.
His allegiance, and passionate patriotism, has only grown over the years.
The 48-year-old father of two sons, Jeffrey, 28, and Jarrod, 26, both of them doing tours of military duty in Afghanistan, is a passionate patriot. His allegiance to the flag, and the sacrifice and freedom it represents, is something he does not take for granted.
The automobile restoration businessman who also spent time in law enforcement is committed to honoring the symbol of this nation, and the brave men and women who risk it all for its defense.
“I love this country, and everything about it,” Lesley said. “When I see a tattered flag, it gives me a great deal of sadness and despair… Just being an American citizen, I take (the flag) pretty seriously. If you’re going to fly the flag, do it properly.”
American Legion Post 6 Honor Guard Chairman Dan Tillmans shares a similar sentimentality.
Flag protocol is not mandatory, and appearance is “in the eyes of the beholder,” Tillmans said.
As a patriotic veteran, though, Tillmans said he keeps a supply in his truck and is not afraid to stop and donate a new flag to an individual or business when he spots one he thinks deserves to be replaced. He, too, will take the retired flag to the post for a proper burning, he said.
Flags can be flown in inclement weather, but Tillmans said if people wish to fly the flag around-the-clock they might opt for a nylon/polyester brand rather than cloth as it is more suitable for outdoor display. At night, all flags should have a dedicated light to shine on it, or it should be brought indoors at dusk.
Proper disposal of any American flag is burning; that can be a private fireplace but should be handled in reverent fashion such that nothing else is burned along with it, Tillmans said.
In Prescott, the most impressive, publicly displayed flag is on state Highway 69 in front of Lamb Nissan, a 10-story high, 1,500 square-foot version employees urged the owners to hoist on a 100-foot high flagpole when the building was constructed in 2003. The flagpole itself cost $150,000 to install.
“It’s bigger than anyone thinks,” said General Manager Ed Walsh of the 80-pound flag that requires 10 to 15 employees to hoist and lower on a monthly basis. “Until you go to change it out, you can’t get a grasp of it till you get it close to the ground … you can fit two or three trucks just in the blue section.”
The very size and location of the flag do make it susceptible to high winds and weather, and therefore it can get frayed or torn. So the dealership replaces the flag each month at a cost of $1,800 each.
“We love the flag,” Walsh said. “We treat it with as much respect as we can.”
Music legend Johnny Cash, “The Man in Black,” has a tune that is played for the opening ceremonies at every Prescott Frontier Days rodeo event, “The Ragged Old Flag.” Those lyrics suggest a reason why the wear and tear in some flags may bear meaning for a family, or even a community. More often than not, however, Tillmans and other veterans see a ragged flag and think neglect, or worse, disrespect.
“It’s common sense,” Tillmans said of proper flag handling. “When a flag is showing torn edges, it’s time to take it down. If it’s faded, again it’s in the eyes of the beholder. You can’t expect everything to remain bright and crisp forever. Just keep an eye on it. Beyond that, though, if it’s torn, obviously, it should come down.”