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National Flag Etiquette: Memorial Day and Veterans Day

Land of the Free Because of the Brave

What Army spouse’s heart doesn’t swell just a bit when she or he hears the sharp flap of our beautiful American flag as it waves in the wind? It represents our wonderful country and the service for which their family devotes themselves. It always flies on post, sometimes in our front yards, and may well be what covers our hero’s casket at the end of life. To respect our flag and what it stands for, it’s important to know some of the background and etiquette that is expected of us.    

Public Law 94-344, known as the U.S. Flag Code, identifies the rules for handling and displaying the flag of the United States. We’ll discuss a few symbolic ways we respect our flag and can teach our children and fellow Americans how to respectfully display and honor the flag. Our national flag is considered a living symbol, and there is a lot of rich history to respect and uphold. 

WHEN TO STAND AND RENDER HONORS

Outdoors: Appropriate rendering of honors to the flag of the United States for civilians is to stand. Men should take their headgear off and place their right hand over their heart, women should stand and place their right hand over their heart. Members of the Armed Forces in uniform should render salute. Retired soldiers are now authorized to salute.

Indoors: It is customary for all civilians to render honors by standing and placing their right hand over their heart. Members of the Armed Forces in uniform stand at attention.

National Anthem: Stand with your right hand over your heart. 

Pledge of Allegiance:  Stand with your right hand over your heart.

Parades or Reviews: When the American flag passes in front of you at a parade or review, stand and place your hand over your heart when the flag is six paces before you and six paces after it passes you.

Reveille and Retreat: Stand and face the flag, hand over your heart.

DISPLAYING THE FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES

When hanging the flag, either horizontally or vertically, against a wall or from a window, the union (blue field with 50 stars) should always be to the observer’s top left corner. 

Hanging in a street:  The union (stars) face north or east depending the direction of the street.

Hanging on a pole: No other flag should be placed taller. It is customary to hang the flag from sunrise to sunset unless properly illuminated. 

Lapel flag pin: Left side, near the heart

The U.S. flag right-sleeve shoulder patch may look like it is going backward, but it’s to give the effect of flying in the breeze as the wearer is charging forward. 

Red, White and Blue Bunting is very appropriate on stages and podiums. Easy to remember—blue to the sky; red blood to the ground.

The flag of the U.S. should not be worn as clothing. 

DISPOSING OF THE FLAG

Remember to honorably dispose of our flag of the U.S. if it is tattered, torn, or has touched the ground. 

For more in-depth information on flag etiquette (half-staff; flag precedence; flag line; folding the flag), please reference the above Public Law and pages 282-283 in The Army Spouse Handbook.

TRADITIONS: the backstory

Memorial Day commemorates those women and men who died in military service to our country. This federal holiday occurs each year on the last Monday in May. 

It originated after the Civil War; observed to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers who died. The U.S. Flag is hung at half-staff, from morning until noon, then raised to full.

Veterans Day occurs each year on Nov. 11, commemorating the patriotism and sacrifice of all those who serve or have served in the U.S. military. In 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the battlefield of Europe fell silent after more than four years of fighting. Congress declared Armistice Day in 1938, and in 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day in honor of all U.S. veterans. 

Veterans Day should not be confused with Memorial Day. Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who gave up their lives in the line of duty; Veterans Day is to honor all those who have served. 

Author

  • Protocol and Etiquette Team

    Ann Crossley and Ginger Perkins are the authors of "The Army Spouse Handbook," the go-to guide for the 21st century Army spouse. The 440-page book describes situations that you may encounter as an Army spouse, irrespective of your spouse’s rank or assignment. The book is not meant to be read from cover-to-cover, but kept handy and used as a reference book when you need to know what to expect in social situations. Michelle Hodge, a seasoned spouse, has taught protocol and customs classes and continues to be an advocate for soldiers and family members. Lynda Smith, the newest member of the Traditions and Protocol team, enjoys finding new ways to bring old Army traditions to life with fun and humorous experiences, a little old-school vibe, and a modern twist.

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