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Renewed interest in flag spurs questions about proper use

| Saturday, June 14, 2003

There's more to displaying an American flag than patriotic feelings and saluting. It also involves a special etiquette more people are interested in learning.

"We experienced a flurry of activity after 9/11. People who traditionally fly the flag wanted to be sure they were doing it right," says David White, executive director of the National Flag Foundation, based in Pittsburgh's Hill District, which is considered the nation's leading authority on flag etiquette.

"The flag is a symbol of what America is about. It represents our ideals. The flag is not a symbol of the government or military ... it stands for the people who went before us," he says. "We fly it out of gratitude and to say thanks to those who went before us."

Flag Day commemorates the birthday of America's flag. The Continental Congress authorized the creation of the Stars and Stripes on June 14, 1777, an anniversary first celebrated 100 years later in 1877. Flag Day was proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, although it wasn't officially designated by Congress until 1949.

"It is the fourth oldest national flag in the world," White says. "The flags of the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway are older."

This year marks Old Glory's 226th birthday. As a leading observer of Flag Day, the National Flag Foundation's commemoration this year will include "Flags Across America," during which 200 flags throughout the nation will be raised simultaneously at noon today, Eastern time.

"Flag etiquette is in the public consciousness now because of the proliferation of flags on display," says Dale Coots, marketing manager of New York based Annin & Co., America's oldest flag manufacturer. "People are definitely more patriotic these days."

Two questions come up most often:

"The first involves the proper disposal of a flag," Coots says. "People fly a flag for a while and it gets worn. They don't know what they should do with it. The other question is how to display a flag on a vehicle, which many people are doing these days."

According to Annin's Web site, small "auto flags," often attached to the antenna, are meant to be used for a short time only, such as for parades or festivals. Noting that auto flags can be potential safety hazards, the site suggests individuals choose flag bumper stickers or affix a small flag to a side car window instead.

"Most of the questions we get regard flag display," White says. "How and when. They want to know when a flag should be retired and when it should be flown at half-staff."

Not surprisingly, the renewed interest in and questions regarding flag etiquette mirror increasing flag sales.

"We experienced a boom in business after Sept. 11 that has remained steady," Coots says. "We anticipated an increase in business for 2003 because of the impending situation in Iraq, and upped our inventory between 20 and 30 percent. We've experienced an increase in sales, although we're not sure if it's because people are buying earlier or if stores are ordering more inventory."

According to Coots, the flag manufacturer's busiest season is normally April through June. This coincides with Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, the two summer holidays in which flags traditionally play a prominent role.

The upswing in American flag sales has brought one unexpected demand for the country's oldest flag manufacturer:

"We've seen an increased interest in people wanting military flags. It's something we were not anticipating," Coots says.

White has noticed more smaller flags, including stick flags, on display at homes and businesses. But even the small flags require attention.

"Flags of all sizes can get raggedy as a result of being flown outdoors for a few years," he says. "People don't take care and use the same one when it should be replaced. The flag must be shown respect."

Flag etiquette


Basics of American flag etiquette include:

  • Flags should be in clean and in good condition, without tears, rips or shreds.

  • The flag is normally displayed between sunrise and sunset. It can be flown at night if illuminated. Proper illumination means the stars and stripes can be seen from a reasonable distance.

  • The flag can be flown in inclement weather only if made of all-weather material.

  • The flag is saluted as it is raised and lowered.

  • The flag may be hung vertically from a window, roof eaves or other structural overhead.

  • When the flag is displayed against a wall, vertically or horizontally, the flag's stars, known as the union, must be at the top, to the flag's own right and the observer's left.

  • A flag displayed from a staff from a porch, window or building should have its union at the top of the pole unless the flag is at half mast.

  • According to the official Flag Code, the flag should never be used as wearing apparel, for advertising purposes, appear with words written on it, or attached to any other insignia or drawing.

  • The flag shall be flown at half-staff, by order of the president, upon the death of principal figures of the U.S. government and the governor of a state, territory or possession. To properly position the flag at half staff, first raise the flag to the top of the pole for an instant, then, in respect for the deceased being honored, lower it to the half staff position. Before lowering a flag at half staff for the day, raise it again to the top of the pole.

  • Old or worn flags should not be flown, but rather retired and disposed of in the proper manner as outlined in the Flag Code. "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning," according to the code. In many communities, such organizations as the American Legion, Boy Scouts and Veterans of Foreign Wars conduct flag retirement ceremonies.

    Sources: www.americanflags.com , www.annin.com , and www.flagday.org

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