My first memories the American Flag were of early elementary school. I can recall starting each day by standing with the rest of the class, facing the flag in one corner at the front of the classroom and reciting the pledge of allegiance. However, my real education in the proper respect for the flag began in the fourth grade when an acquaintance of mine, Paul (I can’t remember his last name) asked me to help him with his flag duties. He was tasked with raising the flag on the pole in front of the school and taking it down at the end of the school day. He taught me how to ensure that the flag was never to touch the ground and how it should be raised and lowered.
He also taught me how the flag should never be left out at night or in the rain. I can vividly remember Paul and I running out of our class room at the first hint rain of to rescue the flag without saying a word to our teacher, Mrs. Roselin (she knew were we were going). Under dark threatening clouds,we would hastily lower the flag, detach it from its halyards and with each of us holding one end, rush the flag inside the school before if got wet. Then standing in the main hall we would, with solemn respect, fold as proscribed in a proper triangular pattern and put it in its place in the principal’s office, to be raised again when the threat of rain was gone.
Thus when later I joined the Boy Scouts I had a head start in learning the fundamentals of the proper respect for the American flag from the Boy Scout Manual as part of the requirements for promotion to one of the lower scout ranks. That tradition of respect for the American flag was also emphasized during my four and a half years as an Air Force officer.
Therefore, throughout my early life I eternalized lesson that we should show the proper respect to our flag because it is the visible symbol of our country. I am not a flag waving conservative who seeks to cover my causes in the red, white, and blue while pretending to more patriotic than everyone else, but like most Americans I love my country. As a result respect for our flag is stamped indelibly on my soul. That’s why it saddens me because many people today seem to be ignorant of the manner is in which the flag should be treated. Worse yet they willfully display their ignorance and treat the flag like some kind of decoration, or article of clothing, or even worse, even though they have the best of intentions.
It is common to see a number American flags on small flag staffs planted in a row along the side of roads and at the entrances of subdivisions in the weeks leading up to patriotic holidays like the 4th of July. There the flags are condemned to stay, day after day, and in the dark night after night, in every conceivable kind of bad weather, the result of misguided attempts of patriotism. Then after the holidays are done, more than once I’ve seen city workers and subdivision residents recover the flags by throwing them unceremoniously into the beds of pickup trucks. American flags are also displayed in front of the houses of would be patriots day and night for weeks at a time, regardless of the weather, though they are not even illuminated after dark.
It is apparent that these people mean well. Their intent is probably to show their patriotism and to “decorate” their city, their neighborhood, or their houses for patriotic national holidays. They are probably just ignorant of the manner which proper respect should be shown to the American flag. These individuals should read the Flag Code:
The applicable sections are the following:
- (a) It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
- (c) The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed.
- b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
It is also not unusual at international sporting events to see American victors running around with an American flag draped around their necks like some kind of red, white and blue scarf. I think this custom started when Jim Craig, the goal keeper of the American hockey team skated around the rink after the defeat of the Russian team in the 1980 Olympics – often called the Miracle on Ice – oblivious to the fact that someone had thrown an American flag over his shoulders. I really don’t think that the athletes who do such things understand that they are not properly respecting the flag. On the contrary they probably view their actions as patriotic, but the bottom line is that the American flag is not a scarf. On the other hand I see nothing wrong someone like Bruce Jenner (well he was Bruce Jenner at the time) running around the track holding a small American Flag on a small staff.
By the way, applicable section of the Flag Code reads as follows:
- (d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.
Of course there are always those who carry things to ridiculous extremes. I attended one of the preliminary games of the Olympic soccer competitions which were held in various cities around the US during the 1996 Atlanta games. In this particular game the US played Argentina. The stadium was full and there plenty of the opposition’s fans in attendance cheering on their team. The many Americans in attendance responded with chants of U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A…. It was a fun and festive occasion, but unfortunately the US team lost.
Between periods I went to the concession stand get a Coke and some something to eat. Ahead of me in line was a college aged young man decked out in some kind red, white and blue costume meant I guess to look like a super hero uniform. Around his neck he had tied the field end of an American flag which then cascaded over his shoulders and down his back like a cape. I guess I should have kept my mouth shut, but I didn’t manage to do so. After he paid for his order he turned towards me has he prepared to go I looked him in the eyes and said, “That’s no way to treat the flag.” When he looked at me in obvious confusion, I continued, “It’s disrespectful to wear the American flag as a cape”. He then shook his head and waked away still looking like he was still trying to process what I was trying to tell him.
Obviously he had never read pertinent section of the Flag Code which follows:
- (j) 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, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
I am often reminded that that the general public is often clueless on how to treat the American flag. Just this morning as I was fixing my coffee I glanced at the calendar affixed to the side of our refrigerator with a magnet. It is one of those Humane Society calendars that they send you through the mail for contributing. The calendar for each month is displayed on a separate page with a photo of an animal at the top of the page, usually in an appropriate setting for that particular time of year. My wife had apparently turned the page of the calendar to the month of July and the photo was that of cat lying on top of an American Flag. I guess some photographer thought it would be appropriate to associate the October photo with the patriotic holiday of the 4th of July and someone in charge of publicity at the Humane Society thought that was a good idea. However, as much as I love cats, my thought first was thought how inappropriate and disrespectful the picture was. I guess neither the photographer nor the Humane Society were acquainted with the Flag Code phrase, “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery”.
I guess I am just a patriotic old fool, but at least I know that the flag code is actually the law of the land, having been a bill which was passed by both houses of congress in 1942 and signed by the President Roosevelt. However, the Flag Code does not prescribe any penalties for non-compliance and it doesn’t include any enforcement provisions. It simply functions as a guide for voluntary compliance. So you cannot be arrested for not standing and facing the flag with your right hand over your heart during the playing of the national anthem – which, by the way, is also prescribed in the Flag Code. You can not even be arrested for burning the American flag in protest. The Supreme Court has struck down both state and federal laws passed to deal with flag desecration. The code merely informs as the how the flag should be respected as the “living symbol of a living country”.
I think every American should at least read the Flag Code once, so we are all are at least aware of its provisions. You can find the code embedded in a document prepared for Congress by the Congressional Research Service. The document is called the “The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions”. As the name suggests, in addition to the Flag Code the document includes explanations of the Code’s various sections. The document can be found at the following link; http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30243.pdf.
However, what you do with the knowledge gained is up to you. After all, it’s a free country.