Tag Archives: American flag

When to Drape the Deceased

My firefighting friends in California had a great question for me. Here are my thoughts.

What a tragedy to lose a fellow firefighter, emergency medic, or law enforcement officer, let alone a member of the armed forces. However, it does happen and all too often. Since we know that death comes to us all and that it is just a matter of when, it is a good idea to be as prepared as possible. We will concentrate on the earthly traditions following a death, although each individual must give a thought to his everlasting soul before time runs out.

Tradition holds that warriors are draped with the colors under which they fought. That is why our US military service members and veterans have flag-draped caskets. Whether or not one believes, as Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler once said, “War is a racket”, is not the issue, the issue is about rendering respect. Your politics, my politics have zero to do with the situation. This is also why we stand at the appropriate time.

1 Peter 2:17 Show proper respect to everyone.

Romans 13:7 Give to everyone what you owe them: if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

First responders are also “in the fight” in the form of serving the public safety interest on a daily basis. Again, good/bad are not the issue.

Members of the US military receive the American flag. First responders have a choice. If the deceased individual has not made a choice, the family is then asked. If they do not have a preference, the American flag is the default. The choices for first responders are their state and city flags.

NOTE: check your local guidance for any special flag fold procedures. Some states have them, most do not. For any state/municipality without guidance, the rectangle fold is standard, keeping the triangle fold reserved for the American flag. Yes, guidance can dictate the triangle fold.

The question then becomes, when does the body of the deceased get draped with the flag?

AZ "Hotshots"
AZ “Hotshots”

Tragedy struck the Arizona firefighting community a few years ago and it reverberated with firefighters throughout the world. Nineteen firefighters fighting wildfires lost their lives in unimaginable circumstances. This picture is from an unknown source. Some, were horrified that the picture was posted on social media. Read more about that by clicking here. I’m using this photo as an educational example.

Once the dead first responder is discovered, the remains must be moved to a staging area for transportation preparations. At that point, it would be appropriate to cover the remains with a flag. It would also be appropriate to begin Casket Watch at this time.

The deceased do not care, it’s about the family, both relatives and beyond. Showing the utmost care and respect are the best things one can do in these terrible situations. Carrying one or two interment flags (5′ x 9 1/2′) in a vehicle or apparatus is part of preparing for the worst.

There are two types of material for flags, plastic-based and cotton. I highly suggest never giving anything other than a large-star cotton flag to the family. In the field, there is a possibility of the flag becoming soiled. Dry cleaning is perfectly acceptable. If a rayon-type flag is used it is slippery, does not fold well and is quite light. Cotton is heavier. It may be necessary to tuck the flag underneath the body bag or maybe to weight it down with a couple of stones while in the field to prevent it from leaving the remains. While it is not the best situation, I will leave that decision up to those who have to deal with losing a brother- or sister-in-arms: do you even place the flag at that moment and does it need weighting down or do you simply wait until the body is in the coroner’s vehicle.

The Misplaced Respect of Stars For Our Troops

A while back I noticed pictures of scouts (male and female) cutting the canton (blue field) from American flags readying them for proper disposal. I was not happy. I then noticed pictures of stars cut from American flags that we neatly packaged in very small zip-close bags with a nice typed note inside to our country’s veterans that reads:

“I am part of our American flag that has flown over the USA. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that You are not forgotten.” (Emphasis theirs)

Let’s see what the US Flag Code has to say about a flag that is “tattered and torn” from the sun and wind. TITLE 4, Chapter 1, Sec. 8(k) states:

“The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

You can imagine my surprise that someone would actually think it is just fine to cut up the flag, whether “tattered and torn” or not,  and hand out its pieces as a tribute. So, I found the website for Stars for our Troops and sent them a message. When you submit a message to the organization, you must supply all of your contact information.

My message read: Deplorable! http://www.starsforourtroops.org (Your) company cuts up American flags and gives the stars to vets. So, desecration of our National Ensign is OK as long as you give the stars to “deserving” people.

In return, I received a package in the mail

The package contained a sandwich-sized zip-close bag with 49 of the smaller zip-close bags, that I mentioned earlier, containing stars cut from flags. There was also a typed note with a hand-written message.


The written message said this:

“You have the opportunity to change and thank 49 people because we appreciate them.” Signed by Susan.

Below is my final response to Susan and her organization’s completely misplaced respect for “our troops”.

Dear Susan,

I do have an opportunity, one that is multifaceted due to your organization. My first opportunity is to properly dispose of American flag material, something that is every American’s responsibility, whether they accomplish it their self or have a veteran service organization do it for them.

Here is the sequence of events that took place to properly dispose of the 49 stars and the small threads that fell from some of them:

stars-for-our-tropps-disrespect-3First came the removal of all 49 stars, the tiny threads and the pieces of paper inside each bag. Side note, I recycled the paper.

I did not have access to nor did I have the ability to create a fire and place the stars on it as is usual, so I adapted and took a piece of scrap metal that I had, cleaned it off, placed the stars on it and soaked them in lighter fluid.

stars-for-our-tropps-disrespect-4I then lit the stars and made sure they burned completely. I gathered the remains in a small shovel, buried them in a small spot in my back yard, sounded Taps through my phone and rendered a hand salute during that time (veterans are now able to salute in civilian clothes since a National Defense Act of the mid 2000s).


My next opportunity is to educate you and the rest of America as to why it is so very wrong to cut up “tattered and torn” American flags and give them out as a misplaced form of appreciation. This is not some one-up, tit-for-tat game nor is it an attack, this is my version of reproof for you. It may seem harsh, but out of a difficult situation we can learn and grow. In no way should you continue to cut flags and hand out the pieces as tribute! It does not matter how any veteran “feels” when they receive it, what you are doing is wrong and I’ll even attempt to educate my fellow veterans. The “Tears in veteran’s eyes” thing does not phase me. It’s a caring gesture that the veterans appreciate and a great majority of Americans, it seems, have no understanding of flag desecration, especially when it is done with utter sincerity.

I cannot force you to do anything, nor do I really want to. I would appreciate it if you would just stop doing this of your own volition. Stop desecrating flags and handing out the pieces. Here’s a thought, switch to handing out tiny triangle-folded flags. The flags that are on the small sticks that people buy and wave at Independence Day parades would be perfect, people don’t know what to do with them on July 5th anyway, so why not begin a campaign to have them donated/mailed to you. You could fold them into triangles per the Flag Code and even get local JROTC cadets or scouts to help in this. How much more meaningful this would be, a definite win-win for everyone! Here is a picture of a flag that I received in 2010 from a prospective Eagle Scout. It’s a great idea!


Literally Cutting the American Flag

from southplattesentinel.com
from southplattesentinel.com

A tattered or faded American Flag is ready for retirement. Retiring an American flag means to burn it. Some people feel that burning a flag, no matter the situation, is still disrespectful. In the flag retirement situation, nothing could be further from the truth.

Burning and Burning
There is a big difference! Americans, who love their country and flag, do not treat that flag with disrespect. We do not just throw it away in the garbage when it is no longer fit for everyday display. There are exceptions to this with historic tattered flags on display across the country. When the flag is no longer suitable for daily display, we take the flag, fold it into a rectangle, and burn it. Some Americans feel the need to burn our country’s flag because they are unable to form a cogent, coherent argument and need to stand on a corner in front of others and push their disrespectful agenda in the face of others by flying a burning American flag.

from conservativepost.com
from conservativepost.com

Side note: I support freedom of speech and some view burning our flag as just that. I will defend the right of people who want to act irresponsibly and burn our flag. I do not like the action, but I do not have to watch and I can treat flags in my charge with respect and care as I hope you will.

The difference? Respect has everything to do with it.

Flag Retirement the Wrong Way

from coladaily.com
from coladaily.com

If you cut the stars from the stripes, it’s not longer the American flag and you can then feel better about burning it. I guess that is the illogical reasoning behind this act of initial disrespect to the flag to avoid disrespect to the flag.

from gps.edu
from gps.edu

Boy and Girl Scouts and many veteran organizations across the country are practicing this disrespect to our flag.

I do not know when or where it started, but it needs to stop right now! We need to educate cadets and Scouts as well as our well-meaning veterans.

Recently, I read a reply to my comment on a social media account that stated ‘since a flag company says on their website that it is OK, we are going to cut our flags.

Flag Retirement, the Correct Way
At home, make a fire on your grill. Fold your flag into a rectangle (no, it does not represent a casket) and place it on the fire. A flag folded into a triangle is much more difficult to burn due to all of the folded layers.

from democraticunderground.com
from democraticunderground.com

In a public ceremony, place the representative flag, folded in a triangle on a very hot fire and follow one of the ceremony guidelines linked below. Burn the rest of the flags eligible for retirement in an incinerator or a roaring fire, preferably not in public.

from democraticunderground.com
from democraticunderground.com

The National Flag Foundation’s Flag Retirement Ceremony

Click here to read the American Legion’s Unserviceable Flag Retirement Ceremony adopted in 1937.

As you can see, no one has ever advocated cutting the canton (blue field) from the stripes. It is extremely disrespectful to do so and it does not matter what some flag-based website has to say as far as a recommendation. Not even this one. I am providing links to professional guidance set forth by groups with the intention of providing the utmost respect.

Associated article: Disrespect to the American Flag

Christian Flag over American Flag?

Christian over American FlagYes. On church grounds, inside or out, the Christian flag can be flown above the American during services.

Here is the link to the interview of the pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church.

Click here to read other posts with the tag, flag etiquette.

The following is an excerpt from my book, The Honor Guard Manual.


“Nothing can be above the American flag.” Part II

The only flag that may be flown above or to the right of the American flag is… The Christian flag/pennant.

  • American Law: The Bill of Rights, Article 1, The Constitution of the United States: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
  • The United States Navy: During the Service of Divine Worship led by the Fleet Chaplain, a triangular Pennant of White with a blue Latin cross is flown at the masthead above the American flag.
  • The State of California: Excerpted from Stars, Stripes and Statues, National Flag Foundation, p. 66, item 2. No flag or pennant shall be placed above, or if on the same level, to the right of, the United States flag, except flags flown during church services.

The Code for the Christian Flag

  1. When the Christian flag is on the floor level, the Christian flag is placed to the right, front, of the congregation and outside of the communion railing.
  2. When the Christian flag is placed within the chancel, communion railing or choir loft, it is placed to the right side of the altar, of the clergymen, and of the choir as they face the congregation.
  3. When the Christian flag is displayed with the American flag and/or other flags:
    1. The American flag and/or other flags may be placed symmetrically on the opposite side of the sanctuary and on the same level as the Christian flag.
    2. If desired, it is also proper to place the Christian and national flags side-by-side wherever stationed in the church, thus symbolizing both the spiritual and patriotic loyalties of the congregation.
    3. When the flags are placed side-by-side, the Christian flag is always stationed on the right of all other flags.
    4. The Christian flag never dips to any other flag. It may properly dip to the altar Cross.
  4. Use of the Christian flag in other situations:
    1. Where a Cross is carried in a processional, the Cross leads, followed by the Christian flag.
    2. In a single-column processional, the Christian flag precedes all other flags.
    3. In a double-column processional, the Christian flag is on the right.
    4. When the Christian flag is on the same flagpole with any other flag, the Christian flag receives the top position.
    5. Where the Christian flag and another flag are on separate poles, the Christian flag is on the right as it faces the street or audience.
    6. In placing the Christian flag staff in its supporting base, it should be adjusted so that the blue canton and Cross are turned toward the congregation.
    7. No other symbol or flag should ever be placed above the Cross.

Christian Flag Code information courtesy of: www.steve4u.com/christian/facts.htm

When to Raise and Lower the American Flag

Flag NomenclatureI received these questions just a short time ago.

1. At the beginning of the work day (duty day) when raising the U.S. flag in conjunction with a state flag which one is flown first? I believe it to be the U.S. flag.
Answer: Per the Flag Code, the American flag is always raised first.

2. When lowering the flags at the end of the day which one is lowered first? U.S. or state flag?
Answer: Per the Flag Code, the American flag is always lowered last. The state flag is lowered and gathered into someone’s arms and then the American is lowered and gathered. Both can be folded at the same time.

3. In a ceremony such as a high school graduation should the National Anthem be performed before or after the Pledge of Allegiance?
Answer: The National Anthem is played while the flag is being raised or when the color team (guard) posts to the front of the auditorium. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited after the flag is raised or when the color team posts to the front of the auditorium in place of the Anthem. There is no need for both the Anthem and Pledge. One or the other suffices.

Flag Pole Height Chart and Maritime Flag Arrangements

Flag Pole HeightFor our purposes, flagpole means a permanent pole cemented into the ground and flagstaff is one that is carried.

For flagpoles a general rule of thumb is the height of the flag should be 1/3 or 1/5 the height of the flagpole (the pole should be three or five times the height of the flag). Here is an example.

For a twenty-five foot flagpole:

  • 1/5 of twenty-five is five.
  • 1/3 of twenty-five is eight (rounded down).

Flying a flag that is larger than recommended could result in damage to the flagpole, halyard and/or hardware.

Standardized Military Flag Sizes:

These are the only authorized flag sizes flown from military flagpoles for each service.

  • Storm Flag: 5’x9’
  • Post/Base Flag: 10’x19’
  • Garrison Flag: 20’x36’

Flagpole and Equivalent Flag Size Chart (1/5)

15’: 3’x5’
20’: 3’x5’ – 4’x6’
25’: 4’x6’ – 5’x8’
30’: 5’x8’ – 6’x10’
35’: 6’x10’ – 8’x12’
40’: 6’x10’ – 10’x15’
45’: 8’x12’ – 10’x15’
50’: 10’x15’- 12’x18’
60’: 10’x15’- 15’x25’
70’: 12’x18’ – 20’x30’
80’: 15’x25’ – 20’x38’
90’: 15’x25’ – 20’x38’
100’: 15’x25’ – 30’X60’

Maritime Flag Arrangements

Maritime Mast

For the most part, the provisions of the Flag Code are manifest in the traditions and customs for the display of the Ensign ( American flag) by seamen. The following provisions are made for the display of the flag on a mast located on a base.

1. Single Mast (no Yard or Gaff)
” Ensign is flown at the truck (#1).
” All other flags are pennants flown below Ensign.

2. Mast with Yard:
” Ensign is flown at the truck (#1).
” Organizational burgee (flag) is flown at the starboard (right) yard arm (#3).

3. Mast with a Yard and Gaff:
” Ensign is flown at the gaff (#2).
” Burgee is flown at the truck (#1).
” Flags at #3 and #4 vary depending on the activity at the organization.

It is display #3 which causes the most confusion. This puts the club burgee in a higher position physically, but not above that of the Ensign symbolically. By the normal Flag Code provisions, this would seem to be an incorrect display. The tradition of the seas, however, is to hold the gaff as the position of honor; thus, the intent of this tradition and display is to give proper respect to the flag.

Where a yard is involved, rules provide that when a foreign ensign is displayed, the Ensign is flown at #3; the foreign ensign at #4; the club burgee at #1; and other flags at #2.

The gaff extends aft (to the rear), and a mast on yacht club grounds is faced seaward. Therefore the gaff will (or should) be directed toward the land. The observation point then becomes a point somewhere on the sea side of the mast. This then makes the placement of the Ensign in regard to the foreign ensign conform to Flag Code provisions.


The Flagpole with Two Halyards and the Intended Direction of Display

Flagpole 2 HalyardsWhen I travel, I am usually aware of flag displays and other ceremonial aspects that many people don’t recognize. In the two pictures above, you can see three flags displayed on a flagpole that has a two halyard system at a rest stop where my wife and I had lunch.

I am posting this to educate people, not call out any one person or a state. The individual(s) who put up these flags had the right idea, but as you can see this is not the way to display the flags. I am standing on the side of the intended direction of display. Notice the American flag on the left side of the pole and the POW/MIA and state flags on the right- but below the American. This is OK, but improvements can be made.

You can see in the picture below how to display flags from a stationary flagstaff/flagpole that has two separate halyards/ropes. The intended direction of display (even if the pole can be seen from 360 degrees) dictates where the flags go. These two illustrations show an intended display in your direction with the AMerican flag to the viewer’s left.

Flag Pole with Two Halyards- Close

The picture above shows the POW/MIA flag flown directly below the American flag. Any flag flown below the American flag on the same halyard can actually be attached to the American flag’s bottom clip.

Flag Pole with Two Halyards- Space

The picture above shows the POW/MIA flag flown with space below the American flag that is required at least at Air Force installations. The AF protocol instruction states that there should be enough space between the flags so that when the flags are at rest, they do not touch.