United States Flag Etiquette

United States Flag Etiquette

Here are some interesting facts about flag etiquette that you might not be aware of.

Image by eschipul via Flickr

Ever wonder the U.S. flag is called in different situations? Ever wonder why some people salute during the national anthem while others just hold their hat? Well hopefully this short article will help. Keep in mind that we are just going to scratch the surface of flag etiquette. Much more precise etiquette can be found with the Veterans of Foreign War or the American legion.

When the flag is raised and lowered: there are two important times in the day when the flag is to be raised and lowered. At 0800  (8 AM) is when the flag is raised, and at sunset the flag is lowered. This is called ‘colors.’ On military bases you hear a bugle call announcing first call to colors (this is 5 minutes before raising and lowering the colors). Then at 0800 you’ll hear a bugle announcing attention to colors and the National Anthem played. After the national anthem is played, a bugle sounds the carry on. At sunset it is the same with the exception of the national anthem.

When colors is being held, all personal will stop what they are doing and turn in the direction of the flag and salute. Civilian personal will place their right hand on their heart during the national anthem. If you are driving in a car, you will stop your car and return driving when the bugle call to carry on is played.

That brings me to another point, placing your hand on your heart and removing your hat. You only place your hand on your heart and remove your hat when the national anthem is played. You do not place it on your heart if “America the beautiful” or “Our Country tis of thee” is played. Only when the national anthem is played. This is according to military protocol. (This makes me wonder what song was playing when all of those anti-Obama pictures were floating around when he didn’t have his hand on his heart). Military members will salute at the first note of the national anthem (not when attention to colors is called).

If you are somewhere that a visiting country is present, then protocol will us play the visiting country’s national anthem while their flag is raised. It is appropriate for us to remain standing with our hand over our hearts while their national anthem is play. If on a military base when this happens, military members will remain saluting and civilians will remain at attention. This is common courtesy and we would expect the same respect.

If a flag is ordered to be at half mast (the Governor or the President can make this order for his / her jurisdiction) , then the flag is raised fully (fast), then lowered (slowly) to half mast. If you are taking the flag down at sunset, the half masted flag is fully raised then lowered fully.

The flag is called many things. If the flag is on a vessel such as a ship, car or plane, it is called the National Ensign and is located on the aft end of the vessel. If the flag is being carried, such as in a parade, it is called the Colors. If the flag is painted on a car or plane, it is called the Standard.

Have you ever wondered why the flag appears backward on some uniforms or vehicles? For instance on the right arm sleeve of an astronaut the blue field with stars is on the forward part of the arm? This is because the flag will always flow with movement and with the wind. Therefore a flag cannot purposely be positioned to flow against the wind. The star filled blue field will always lead the way of the rest of the flag.

I know that this may seem a little nit-picking for some. But remember many of our brothers and sisters have died for this flag and we should take this very seriously. When you see veterans walking in the parade with Colors, please stand up and give them the respect they deserve. When you see children doing the Pledge or Allegiance in school, lets lead by example and do the pledge with them! 

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gm, posted this comment on Jan 24th, 2012

Hey Dave!

You know the Air Force holds the “sunset” colors at 4pm? Do you know anything about that? Be it back in the 2000’s we always did it at sunset like you were saying even on shore duty.

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