Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flag Day

Several years ago I was part of an exchange with secondary teachers from Japan. The Japanese teachers spent some time with us in Madison and in our schools and we did the same in Japan. As preparation for the experience, all of us spent some time together in Washington, D.C., learning about each other, getting acquainted, and trying to bridge some of the cultural differences. In one of the sessions a Japanese teacher asked why Americans seemed to place so much emphasis on our flag. Many Japanese are, for understandable historical reasons, very skeptical of anything smacking of nationalism. I explained that in our case we have no national figure—no queen or emperor—who symbolizes the nation. Nor does the flag stand for blood or soil. It stands for our ideals—"the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It stands for what we believe in and aspire to be as a country. We honor the flag because it represents the Constitutional system that protects our freedoms and our rights.

In my files I just came across a pamphlet, undated, published by the Marine Corps, titled How to Respect and Display Our Flag. A stamp on it indicates that it was distributed by the "Marine Corps Recruiting Sub-Station" in Janesville, Wisconsin. Since the flags in the illustrations have forty-eight stars, it must be from the late 1950s. The rules it specifies seem almost quaint after the events of the last half century. The flag has been burned and trampled by Americans. It is flown night and day in good weather or foul—even by those who intend to honor it. A colleague used to put one on the floor of his classroom, inviting students to decide whether to walk on it. How one treats the symbol became partisan, expressing a political rather than a patriotic allegiance.

Here is the section from that pamphlet titled "How to Display the Flag":
Respect your flag and render it the courtesies to which it is entitled by observing the following rules, which are in accordance with the practices approved by leading flag authorities:

The National flag should be raised and lowered by hand. It should be displayed only from sunrise to sunset, or between such hours as may be designated by proper authority. Do not raise the flag while it is furled. Unfurl, then hoist quickly to the top of the staff. Lower it slowly and with dignity. Place no objects on or over the flag. Various articles are sometimes placed on a speaker's table covered with the flag. This practice should be avoided.

When displayed in the chancel or on a platform in a church, the flag should be placed on a staff at the clergyman's right; other flags at his left. If displayed in the body of the church, the flag should be at the congregation's right as they face the clergyman.

Do not use the flag as a portion of a costume or athletic uniform. Do not embroider it upon cushions or handkerchiefs nor print it on paper napkins or boxes.

1. When displayed over the middle of the street, the flag should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street, or to the east in a north and south street.

2. When displayed with another flag from crossed staffs, the flag of the United States of America should be on the right (the flag's own right) and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.

3. When it is to be flown at half-mast, the flag should be hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-mast position; but before lowering the flag for the day it should again be raised to the peak. By half-mast is meant hauling down the flag to one-half the distance between the top and the bottom of the staff. On Memorial Day display at half-mast until noon only; then hoist to top of staff.

4. When flags of states or cities or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States of America, the latter should always be at the peak. When flown from adjacent staffs the Stars and Stripes should be hoisted first and lowered last.

5. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope, extending from house to pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out from the building, toward the pole, union first.

6. When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at any angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should go clear to peak of the staff (unless the flag is to be displayed at half-mast).

7. When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.

8. When the flag is displayed in a manner other than by being flown from a staff, it should be displayed flat, whether indoors or out. When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window it should be displayed in the same way, that is, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street. When festoons, rosettes or drapings are desired, bunting of blue, white and red should be used, but never the flag.

9. When carried in a procession with another flag or flags, the Stars and Stripes should be either on the marching right, or when there is a line of other flags, our National flag may be in front of the center of that line.

10. When a number of flags of states or cities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs with our National flag, the latter should be at the center or at the highest point of the group.

11. When the flags of two or more nations are displayed they should be flown from separate staffs of the same height and the flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.

A federal law provides that a trademark cannot be registered which consists of, or comprises among other things, "the flag, coat-of-arms or other insignia of the United States, or any simulation thereof."

Take every precaution to prevent the flag from becoming soiled. It should not be allowed to touch the ground or floor, nor to brush against objects.

When the flag is used in unveiling a statue or monument, it should not be used as a covering of the object to be unveiled. If it is displayed on such occasions, do not allow the flag to fall to the ground, but let it be carried aloft to form a feature of the ceremony.

On suitable occasions repeat this pledge to the flag:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The pamphlet also has the words of our National Anthem. We almost never sing anything beyond the first verse. The third is particularly good:
Oh, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Power that has made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust";
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

First posted in 2009