The American flag and its colors will be ubiquitous in the coming days.
It’s the time of year when people buy paper plates, cakes, T-shirts, tablecloths and more adorned with those stars and stripes. Many Western New Yorkers also will be displaying their actual flags, but some may not know that there is a right and wrong way to do this. That’s why the U.S. Flag Code, which was adopted by Congress in 1923, spells out proper flag etiquette.
“Quite simply, it is a guide for civilians and civilian groups who wish to properly honor the United States of America’s principal emblem,” the U.S. Flag Code reads.
Among its tenets:
• The flag must only fly from sunrise to sunset unless it is properly illuminated overnight.
• Always display the flag with the blue union field upward. To fly the flag upside down is a signal of severe distress.
• Never allow the flag to touch the floor.
• Replace your flag if it becomes dirty, torn or damaged in any way. Properly retire the old flag.
• When displayed on a wall, the blue union field should be in the upper left corner.
• When displayed on a lapel, it should be worn on the left, near the heart.
• During parades, civilians should stand and face the flag when it passes with the right hand over the heart. Uniformed persons should give the military salute.
Peter Roe of Ace Flag Co. in Depew noted that the Flag Code is not law and the police will not show up on your doorstep if you break one of the above rules. But he said people call him all the time with questions about whether they are representing our nation properly, and he often has the answer.
One of the more common mistakes that Roe finds in Western New York is that people will fly multiple flags from different countries on poles of varying heights. Due to our proximity to Canada, it is not uncommon for people to fly both country’s flags. Often he will see the Canadian flag on a lower post, though, which is incorrect. The flags of all nations are supposed to be flown at equal heights in time of peace.
Another frequently made mistake Roe sees around holidays like St. Patrick’s Day is when someone hangs another nation’s flag below the American flag on the same post. This also is incorrect; each nation’s flag should have its own post.
When it comes to retiring a flag, it can be dropped off at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post or at Ace Flag. They will make sure it gets into the right hands and is properly retired at a ceremony, often held on Flag Day.
Jerzy Folta, first vice commander of the East Aurora American Legion, participated in this year’s flag retiring ceremony on Flag Day. He described the event as a somber one in which all flags were given an honorable send-off.
“It’s our country. That’s what our country stands for. This is what our comrades died for,” Folta said.
Folta and his peers at the American Legion and VFW try their best to follow flag etiquette, but he admits it can be difficult to follow all of the rules. The only occasion in which they will go out of their way to tell people they are doing something wrong, he said, is if they see flags on display that clearly are tattered and torn.
Roe also said he doesn’t expect people to follow the extreme dedication to the flag as he does – he will even get off the couch to stand in his living room when the national anthem is being sung before a sports game – but he said he hopes people always treat the flag with respect.
“You want to be aware of how you are displaying the flag itself on the Fourth,” he said. “Theoretically, you can buy paper plates with the flag on them and throw them around, which you are not supposed to do. People will argue that this is not the actual flag. Yes, but it represents one, so you should be respectful.”
Everyone has their own scale of what is right and wrong when it comes to displaying the red, white and blue.
In Roe’s opinion, if you follow the general rule outlined in the Flag Code that “No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America,” you are doing just fine.