Saturday, September 7, 2013

When Should Flags Be Displayed At Half Mast?

September 11th is Patriot Day--a day of Remembrance for the victims of 9/11.  Thought I'd go over a little flag etiquette just prior to that day to clear up a few questions that often come up about when and how to half mast an American Flag.

Patriot Day is a day when flags are to be displayed at half-mast from sunrise to sunset.  The proper way to do this is to raise the flag all the way to the top of the mast, let it linger a moment at the top, then slowly lower it to half-mast.  At the end of the day, the flag should be raised again to the top of the mast before it is lowered.

There's a lot of confusion about when the flag should be hoisted at half-mast.  There are only three days a year when the flag should be at half mast from sunrise to sunset.  Those are Peace Officers Day on May 15th, Patriot Day on September 11th, and Pearl Habor Remembrance Day on December 7th.    On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half mast only until noon, and then it should be raised to full staff. 

But there are many more days that are considered "flag days" where Americans are encouraged to fly their flags, but only the days I've mentioned are days when the flags are half-masted for either part of the day, or the entire day.  There is a complete listing of flag days here

The President of the United States can direct that flags be displayed at half mast nation wide on certain occassions.  When a former President passes away, flags are displayed at half mast for 30 days.  Ten days when it's a Vice President, Supreme Court Justice, or Speaker of the House.  And there are other occassions when the President may issue a directive to lower the flags to half mast.

Governors can also direct flags at half mast when a member of government passes away, or out of respect for a member of the armed services who has been killed in the line of duty.

However, the mayors of cities do not have the authority to direct that flags be lowered to half mast under the United States Flag Code--only the President or the Governor can do so. 

Although citizens aren't required to lower their flags on these days, they certainly can and do.  It's a touching way to show respect on those days when we're asked to remember the sacrifices that others have made.


Todd E. Creason is an author and novelist whose work includes the award-winning non-fiction historical series Famous American Freemasons and the novels One Last Shot (2011) and A Shot After Midnight (2012). He's currently working on the third novel Shot to Hell which will be released in Spring 2014.

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