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The flag of the United States is a living symbol that calls to our spirit, reminding us of the greatness of America. We cherish and uphold it because it is the standard of honor under which we live.  The proper name of the nation's symbol is the United States Flag, however, it is sometimes referred to as Old Glory.

We view the flag with devotion, for it represents our national heritage of noble deeds, splendid accomplishments and untold sacrifices that established the moral character of our country. Our flag is a symbol that makes our past one with the present and makes the present a foundation for tomorrow.  It signifies a people dedicated to liberty, justice and freedom for all.

The flag is our companion around the world. It summons confidence on sight. There is a magic in its folds that continually renews the hope that this nation, under God, will long be an example everywhere for all who love freedom with honor.  We give homage to the flag because it stands for the courageous, earnest, and unselfish experiences of our people who have given us strength as a nation and pride as citizens.  We respect our flag because we have respect for our fellow citizens, and because our love for country is deeply symbolized by the flag.  By honoring and saluting our flag we demonstrate respect and affection for our nation.

U.S. Flag Code

The United States Flag Code, first adopted in 1923 and amended through 2001, prescribes flag etiquette for a variety of circumstances ensuring that our national symbol is treated properly.  Each military branch has it own flag code of etiquette.  Please consult the applicable regulations on matters concerning military protocols.

Standards of Respect

The dictionary defines respect as: “An act of giving particular attention; a high or special regard; the quality or state of being esteemed, considered worthy of high regard; to have reverence, and to refrain from interfering with.” An older definition is, “to look back.” Synonyms are: Admiration, honor, high opinion, consideration and, “to value.”

Advertising and the Flag

“The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.  It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs; printed on paper napkins, boxes or anything that is intended to be discarded.  Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or Halyard from which the flag is flown.” (U.S Code, Title 4, Chapter1, Section 8(i)), however, the display of a corporate flag is not considered to be advertising.

Care and Respect

Flag respect is the base and foundation of all flag etiquette decisions. When millions of Americans display the Flag there are many violations of flag etiquette and protocol.  Etiquette-savvy citizens should attempt to teach the uninformed rather than judge them.   The U.S. Flag should always be treated with the utmost care and respect. Remember: The flag represents a living country, and as such, is considered a living symbol.  Always display the flag with the union (stars) in the upper left.  Never display the flag upside down, except as an extreme distress signal.

Always carry the flag aloft and free.  Do not carry it flat or horizontally in processions or parades.  The exception is carrying very large flags in a parade that are too big to be flown from a staff or pole.  Always keep the flag clean.  Keep it safe from those who would not respect it and from those who would not know how to, such as a young child.

The flag is an ‘American,’ not a political symbol. It is a symbol that each American should respect, for it represents the honor, courage and sacrifice of those who sustained adversity and death to provide freedom, justice and opportunity to all Americans. Contrary to other world flags, the U.S. Flag is the flag of the citizens; people of all ages who make America the world’s leading example of freedom and free enterprise.

Platform or Floor

When displayed on the floor or on a platform, the flag is given the place of honor, always positioned behind the speaker and to the speaker's right, which appears to the left from the audience’s perspective.  Other flags, if any, are positioned to the U.S. Flag’s left, (or to the right, from the audience’s perspective).  The "right" as the position of honor has evolved from antiquity when the "right hand" was the "weapon hand."  The right hand raised without a weapon was a sign of peace. The right hand to an observer appears to be on the observer's left.

Years ago there was a practice (generally in churches) of placing the flag to the left of the speaker, which would appear to the right from the audience’s perspective.  Protocol now calls for the flag to be placed to the left of the audience, commensurate with the greatest number of observers.  If there is a flag at an exit of an assembly room, it should be placed to the left of the door, which positions it to the viewers left when leaving the room.

Flag Groupings

The Flag of The United States of America should be at the center and highest point when displayed with a group of other flags.

Flags on Vehicles

The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides or back of a vehicle, railroad train or a boat.  When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right (passenger side) fender.” (U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7(b)).

Flags should be removed from vehicles at night since they cannot be properly illuminated.  The U.S. Code states, “When a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.”  (U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 6(a)).

Bunting, Furniture and Flags

The flag should not be emblazoned on items such as lawn chairs, paper products, yard goods and furniture.  (U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8 (d)).  “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.  It should never be festooned, drawn back or up in folds, but always allowed to fall free.  Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform and for decoration in general.”

The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying or delivering anything.  The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.  It should not be embroidered on articles such as cushions or handkerchiefs.  It should not be printed on paper napkins, boxes or anything intended to be discarded.  No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.  A flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen and members of patriotic organizations.  The flag represents our living country and is therefore considered a living thing.

Gaff-rigged Pole Display

The position of the U.S. Flag on a mast which also has a gaff is a controversial one.  According to long-standing maritime tradition, the gaff is the position of honor on a ship and thus is where the U.S. Flag should be flown.  Yachting organizations, following nautical tradition, erect land-based, gaff-rigged flagpoles and fly the U.S. Flag at the gaff as well: The gaff is considered to be the position of honor.

The U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7(f), which postdates this maritime tradition, states that, “When flags of States, cities, localities or pennants of societies are flown on the same Halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak.  When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last.  No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s right.”

No other flag or pennant should be placed above or to the right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for Navy personnel.  No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any international flag equal to or higher than the flag of the United States within the United States, its territories and possessions.  The United Nations flag may fly in the position of highest honor at the headquarters of the United Nations only. (U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7(c)).

When the U.S. Flag is displayed on a gaff-rigged pole, organizations and individuals must determine which manner of display will best convey the love, honor and respect that the Flag deserves.

Private Residence

When flying a flag at a private residence, house or apartment, all of the relevant guidelines in the Flag Code should be followed.  The flag should be flown at night only if illuminated and in inclement weather only if made of all-weather material. The flag should be clean and without tears, rips or shredding.  The flag may also be hung vertically from a window, roof eave, or other structural overhang, provided that the union (stars) is positioned in the upper left as an observer would see it.

Against a Wall

When displaying the flag against a wall (vertically or horizontally), the flag's union (stars) should be at the upper left as an observer would see it (U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7(i)).

Crossed Staffs

When another flag is displayed with the U.S. Flag 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.

Several Flags on One Pole

When several flags are flown from the same flag pole, the U.S. Flag should always be at the top, except during church services by naval chaplains at sea when the church pennant may be flown above the U.S. Flag on the ship's mast. Flags of sovereign nations should not be flown on the same pole as the United States Flag but from separate poles.  The United Nations Headquarters Building in New York City, where the U.N. Flag holds the most prominent position, is the only U.S. location exempted from this provision.

Worn on the Lapel

When the flag is displayed as a lapel pin, it should be worn on the left lapel, nearest the heart.

On a Staff from a Window

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.

Across the Width of a Street

When the flag is hung on a wire or cable across a street, it should be hung vertically with the union to the north or east.  If the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending from a structure to a pole at the outer edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be displayed with the union (field of stars) furthest from the building.

Aside Other Flags on Poles

The Flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor, to its own right, when flown with flags of other States or communities on adjacent, but separate flagpoles.  All flagpoles must be the same height and form a straight line.  When displayed with a group of flags from other States or societies, the flag should be at the center and at the highest point. The other flags may be smaller but not larger.  The Flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last flag lowered when flown from adjacent flagpoles.  When hung with the national banner of other countries, each flag must be displayed from a separate pole of the same height. Each flag should be approximately the same size. They should be raised and lowered simultaneously.  The flag of one nation may not be displayed above that of another nation.

Painting the Flag on the Ground

Painting the flag on a surface upon which people will walk, drive or engage in activities that disrespectfully or meaninglessly touch the flag is not recommended.

Order of Precedence for Flag Display

The order of precedence for flags is 1. National. 2. State. 3. Military in order of creation date. 4. All others.  The United Nations uses alphabetical order in its presentation of national flags so that no one country has precedence over another.  Army Regulation 840-10 mandates that State flags should be displayed according to the date that each state was admitted to the union.  According to Department of Defense Directive 1005.8, the prescribed precedence of military flags is determined by service birthdays.  The appropriate order is given below:

Army Birthday --14 June 1775
Marine Corps Birthday – 10 November 1775
Navy Birthday – 13 Oct 1775-Abolished Feb 1781-Reinstated 7 Sep 1781
Air Force Birthday – 18 September 1947
*Coast Guard Birthday – 4 August 1790

Department of Defense Directive 1005.8 specifies that the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Transportation during peacetime.  During wartime, the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Defense.  During wartime, the Coast Guard flag would proceed the Air Force in order of precedence.

The Merchant Marine, Vietnam Veterans and POW/MIA flags can be displayed following the military flags.  The U.S. government did not officially recognize the Merchant Marines as a branch of the military and Merchant Marines were not given veterans’ status.  It is appropriate to honor them as a military branch and display their flag at the trailing end of the other 5 branch-of-service flags.

The Vietnam Veterans and POW/MIA flags can be reversed in order if desired.  The Vietnam Veterans flag represents the living veterans among us from that era.  The POW/MIA flag represents those who can not be here.  Use your discretion on which flag to prioritize.

Parades and Review

The flag should be in front of all parades. At the moment the flag passes, all persons should stand at attention and face the flag with their right hand over their hearts. Persons in uniform should face the flag and render their formal salute. During a parade it is appropriate to salute only the first United States Flag. When other flags are included, the United States Flag should be centered in front of the others or carried to their right.  In a parade, pass-and-review, color guard or similar setting, it is never appropriate to dip the American flag.  Neither will an American Flag at any time for any reason touch the ground.

Patches, Decals and Vessels

"No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.  However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.  The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.  Therefore, a lapel flag pin should be worn on the left lapel nearest the heart."  (U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8(j)).

The International Civil Aviation organization decreed that flags painted on aircraft must face the direction of the flight, so as to be aerodynamically and aesthetically correct.  It was also recommend that flags or flag decals on vehicles and flag patches on uniforms be so oriented.  The decals on military vehicles now show the union (stars) heading into the direction of travel.  That means that flag decals on the right (passenger side) of military vehicles show the union on the upper right side of the flag.

Flag Patches on Army Uniforms

Flag patches affixed to right shoulders of uniforms are reversed, so that the union (stars) faces forward.  The reversal was inspired by the age-old practice of carrying flags into battle. When fastened to a standard, the American flag's union (stars) is always closest to the pole. A flag bearer rushing into the fray, then, would naturally lead with the stars.

The official Army guidelines on the donning of flag patches add that the forward-facing stars give "the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward."  That means that every soldier is also a flag bearer, leading the headlong charge into battle.

Raising and Lowering

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 the National Anthem; whichever takes the longest.

Inclement Weather

It is proper to leave an all-weather flag flying in rain, sleet or snow.

Illumination of the Flag

The flag must be properly illuminated at night.  Proper illumination means that the stars and stripes can be seen readily from a reasonable distance.  Flags on poles generally require a dedicated light.  Flags on a residential porch may require only ambient lighting. The stars and stripes should be clearly visible from across the street.


To position the flag at half-staff, first hoist the flag to the peak of the staff for an instant and then lower it to the half-staff position, roughly between the top and bottom of the staff.  Before lowering it for the day, raise the flag to the peak of the pole first, then lower it.

By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government, State Governors; officials of U.S. territories and possessions.  In the event of the death of other foreign officials and dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to the U.S. President’s instructions, or in accordance with already established customs.

In the event of the death of a present or former government official, any state, territory or possession may fly the National Flag at half-staff.

The flag shall be flown at half-staff for thirty days following the death of the President or a former President; ten days following the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until interment of a former Vice president or Governor of a state, territory, or possession and on the day of death for a member of Congress plus the following day.

Covering a Casket

When used to cover a casket or coffin, the flag should be placed with the union (stars) covering the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or touch the ground at any time. The flag should never be used as the covering for a headstone, statue or monument.  When taken from the casket, the flag should be formally and properly folded as a triangle with only the stars showing.

Folding the Flag

Triangular transparent storage cases with a wood base may be purchased from a flag dealer to hold the folded flag. In mourning, the deceased may be shown respect by attaching an inscribed plaque on the base of the storage case.   Draping the casket with a United States Flag is an honor reserved for veterans or highly regarded state and national figures.  Also see Flag Folding

Gold Fringe on the Flag

Gold fringe frequently decorates the Flag of the United States, but it has no known record of symbolism and no meaning in national or international protocol.  Fringe has long and frequently been used on military and organizational flags and remains an embellishment without meaning. It is purely a decorative and optional addition.  The Flag Code makes no reference to the use of fringe, cord and tassel, and no law or regulation either requires or prohibits the placing of gold fringe on the flag.  Some conspiracy theorists claim that the gold fringe was Alexander Hamilton’s attempt to federalize the individual states during his era and that the gold fringe has “big brother” implications today.  In spite of Hamilton’s clearly stated Federalist views, there is nothing in the current Flag Code to support such sensationalist views.

Retiring Old and Worn Flags

The Flag may be mended when torn and cleaned when dirty.  It should not be hemmed to the point that its measurements are no longer in proportion.  "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning." The flag should be burned in a private setting at a non-public location according to the Flag Code.

In many communities, one or more organizations will accept, collect and oversee the proper disposal of old, worn, tattered, frayed or faded U.S. Flags.  Those organizations are not limited to: The Boy Scouts of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Girl Scouts of America.  If a flag retirement service is provided, your unserviceable flag can be dropped off and they will conduct the Flag Retirement ceremony for you.

A flag retirement ceremony may also be conducted as a family activity in order to teach and instruct. If retiring the flag as a family, use the following steps:

1. Raise the flag on the pole or staff or hold it aloft by hand.

2. Call the group to attention salute and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

3. The family leader should say something like, "This flag has served its nation well and long. It is now worn to a condition in which it should no longer be used to represent the nation. We pay honor to this flag for the service it has rendered."

4. Fold the flag according to the flag folding procedures.

5. Give the flag to the group leader who will burn it until it is completely consumed.

The Girl Scout Retirement Process

Step 1:  Keep the flag off the ground and cut out the Union (stars).
Step 2:  Cut the stripes apart.
Step 3:  With dignity, put the stripes into the fire.
Step 4:  Let the material burn completely.
Step 5:  Place the Union into the fire and let it burn completely.

This should be done in a private ceremony. There may be appropriate music or singing and comments about freedom and liberty or other topics dealing with the flag as an American symbol.

Folding the Flag

1. Two people face each other, each holding one end of the flag. Stretch it horizontally at waist height and fold in half lengthwise.

2. Fold the flag in half lengthwise again; the union (stars) should be on the top.

3. One person holds the flag by the union while the other starts at the opposite end by making a triangular fold.

4. Continue to fold in the flag in triangles from the stripes end until only the blue field with stars is showing.

Writing on the Flag

The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture or drawing of any nature.  (U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8(g)).

Saluting the Flag

To salute the flag, all persons come to attention. Those in uniform give the appropriate salute as specified by each branch of service. Military personnel not in uniform and civilians salute by placing their right hand over their hearts. Men wearing a head cover (hat, cap or other headwear) are to remove it. Women may wear a head covering.

In parades or reviews, at the moment the flag passes, each individual should stand at attention facing the flag and salute.  The Flag of the United States 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 lasts the longest.

When the national anthem is played or sung: Citizens should stand at attention and salute, by placing their right hand over the heart at the first note, and hold the salute through the last note. The salute is directed to the flag if it can be seen, otherwise toward the music. If in uniform, the person should salute in the formal manner. It is proper to salute wherever the national anthem is played, for instance, on a college campus, in a public park, in a church, at a ball game, sports event, etc.  To salute a flag in a moving column, it is proper to start the salute as the flag enters your position and end when it is past.

Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance should be recited by standing at attention, facing the flag, and saluting.  The Pledge was written to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage. The celebration plans resulted in Columbus Day being designated a holiday for the whole country by President Benjamin Harrison.  The original Pledge was written in August of 1882. The 23 words read as follows: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the republic for which it stands: One Nation indivisible, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

In 1923, the original verse was changed to, "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America."  It was also decided, that year, that everyone should say the pledge with their right hands over their hearts. Then in 1954 Congress added, "under God," to the Pledge. It was pointed out that Abraham Lincoln had referred to the United States as, "This nation under God," in his "Gettysburg Address."  In 1943 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that: No citizen can be forced to recite 'The Pledge of Allegiance,’ since the use of force clearly contradicts, “freedom and justice for all."

Our National Anthem

The Star-Spangled Banner

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?  Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming.  And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh, say does that Star - Spangled Banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen, thro' the mists of the deep, Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes, What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep, As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?  Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam, in full glory reflected, now shines on the stream; 'tis the Star - Spangled Banner; oh, long may it wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore that the havoc of war and the battle's confusion a home and a country should leave us no more?  Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.  No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave: And the Star - Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Oh, thus be it ever when free men shall stand, Between their loved homes and the war's desolation; Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land Praise the Power that has made and preserved us a nation!  Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: "In God is our trust"; and the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

When to Fly the Flag

The flag may be displayed every day, however, the following dates are especially appropriate: 

New Year's Day - January 1
Martin Luther King Day - Third Monday in January
Inauguration Day - January 20
Lincoln's Birthday - February 12
Washington's Birthday - Third Monday in February
Easter Sunday (variable)
Mother's Day - Second Sunday in May
Peace Officers Memorial Day (half-staff) - May 15
Armed Forces Day - Third Saturday in May
Memorial Day (half-staff until noon) - Last Monday in May
Flag Day - June 14
Father's Day - Third Sunday in June)
Independence Day - July 4
Korean War Veterans Day (half-staff) - July 27
Labor Day -- First Monday in September
Patriot Day - (half-staff) September 11
Constitution Day - September 17
Gold Star Mothers Day - Last Sunday in September
Columbus Day - Second Monday in October
Navy Day - October 27
Election Day - First Tuesday in November
Veterans Day - November 11
Thanksgiving Day - Fourth Thursday in November
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (half-staff) - December 7
Christmas Day - December 25
State Birthdays Holidays
Other days as proclaimed by the President of the United States.

The flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public institution.