Flag Day 2018: History and Flag Etiquette

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American Flag History

Today marks 241 years since the American flag was adopted by the second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. In the journal entry made by the Continental Congress, it stated the flag should have “13 stripes alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

While the flag was adopted in 1777 it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the flag would start being recognized for observance. The holiday can be traced back to 1885 in Waubeka, Wisconsin. It has been reported that Bernard J. Cigrand, a teacher at the Stony Hill School, held an observance for the American banner at the school.

Cigrand would go on to travel the country and deliver speeches about the flag and patriotism. He would go on to become the president of the National Flag Day Society and American Flag Day Association.

Individual school celebrations would soon be adopted in a number of other communities. George Bolch, principal of a New York City kindergarten school in 1889, arranged a Flag Day celebration at the school. The celebration received attention by the government and a national celebration was arranged.

Flag Day wouldn’t become officially proclaimed until 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson designated June 14 for celebration. The same proclamation would be made by President Calvin Coolidge in 1927. However, it wasn’t until 1949 that President Harry Truman had the holiday officially signed into law.

The first state to officially celebrate Flag Day as a state holiday was Pennsylvania (where the American Flag was first adopted by Congress) on June 14, 1937. The state still recognizes the day as a state holiday. Flag Day is not a federal holiday so businesses and government offices stay open but it doesn’t stop many from celebrating the holiday. Many cities hold Flag Day parades with the largest being in Troy, New York which attracts around 50,000 people.

Honoring the American Flag

The following do’s and don’ts of honoring the flag are offered by Military.com

When displaying the flag, do the following:

  • Display the U.S. flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flagstaffs in the open. If displayed at night the flag should be property illuminated.
  • The U.S. Flag should be placed above all others if multiple flags are on the same staff.
  • When flags are displayed in a row, the U.S. flag goes to the observer’s left. Flags of other nations are flown at same height. State and local flags are traditionally flown lower.
  • When used during a marching ceremony or parade with other flags, the U.S. Flag will be to the observer’s left.
  • When flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. By “half-staff” is meant lowering the flag to one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff.
  • When the flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended vertically with the union (blue field of stars) to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street.
  • When placed on a Podium the flag should be placed on the speaker’s right or the staging area. Other flags should be placed to the left.
  • When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall (or other flat surface), the union (blue field of stars) should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left.

When stowing or disposing of the flag:

  • Fold in the traditional triangle for stowage, never wadded up.
  • The VFW offers the following instructions for properly disposing of a worn flag:
  • The flag should be folded in its customary manner.
  • It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag.
  • Place the flag on the fire.
  • The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.
  • After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished and the ashes buried.
  • Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.

Quick list of Flag Etiquette Don’ts:

  • Don’t dip the U.S. Flag for any person, flag, or vessel.
  • Don’t let the flag touch the ground.
  • Don’t fly flag upside down unless there is an emergency.
  • Don’t carry the flag flat, or carry things in it.
  • Don’t use the flag as clothing.
  • Don’t store the flag where it can get dirty.
  • Don’t use it as a cover.
  • Don’t fasten it or tie it back. Always allow it to fall free.
  • Don’t draw on, or otherwise mark the flag.
  • Don’t use the flag for decoration. Use bunting with the blue on top, then white, then red.