Fly Old Glory, but properly

Published June 29, 2007

The Fourth of July is at hand.

That means sparklers, picnics and all things red, white and blue - including cocktail napkins, patio lights and the American flag.

Memorial Day and July Fourth are the most popular times for displaying the American flag, especially at home.

But whether it's a desire to display patriotism, or simply add a dash of summer curb appeal, hoisting the flag brings with it a host of etiquette rules that may have been lost on a new generation of flag wavers.

"We just got in a shipment of 100 flag etiquette books. We give them away, " says Floyd Head, who owns Head's Flags at 3815 Henderson Blvd. in Tampa.

At the National Flag Foundation, a nonprofit, Pennsylvania-based group with roots dating back more than a century, the flood of etiquette questions coincides with the summer holidays.

"The Fourth of July is one of the top flag-flying holidays. We do a lot of answering questions from individuals about all sorts of things including displaying a flag at half-staff, " says Clark Rogers, the foundation's director of education."

In addition to offering a description of the U.S. Flag Code, the National Flag Foundation offers an excellent primer on flag etiquette at its Web site, www.americanflags.org.

A flag displayed at home should be flown at night only if illuminated. A good porch light is sufficient if the flag can be recognized at a reasonable distance. Fly a flag in bad weather only if it's made of weatherproof material. It should be clean and in good condition - no tears or rips - and folded properly when not in use.

With a home flag, keep it repaired, laundered and once it's too faded or tattered beyond repair, retire it respectfully, preferably by burning it, " advises Joyce Doody, executive secretary of the National Flag Foundation.

"If you don't have the facilities to retire it, call a veterans group or (Boy Scout troop) that offers the service, " she says.

Head does free flag repairs and also provides proper disposal through an American Legion post in Port Tampa.

An American flag should never touch the ground and should be treated with a spirit of respect and common sense. If it does touch the ground, pick it up, dust it off and make sure it's clean.

So does that mean that your well-intentioned neighbor, who leaves a weather-ravaged flag flying 24-7, might be, well, a bit challenged on flag etiquette?

Absolutely, Doody says.

"There seems to be a lack of understanding among the younger generation, perhaps due to a lack of focus on civics education in schools, " Doody says. "Unfortunately flying the flag's also been politicized. People think if you fly a flag you're for the war in Iraq or way to the right. Unfortunately there's been a lot of misunderstanding."

Doody says flag respect should extend to all widely available flag images. She's equally opposed to disposable flag napkins as she is to a flag image a National Hockey League team was considering putting under the ice.

"We told them they would be skating over it and that was probably not very respectful, " she says,

And here's one for the trivia collection: If you're flying several flags from the same pole, the U.S. flag should always be flown at the top, according to the National Flag Foundation Web site.

As July Fourth approaches, Head says business is brisk. He's selling a lot of 2 1/2-by-4-foot flags on a new type of aluminum (or plastic) adjustable porch-style pole with ball bearings.

Stop in sometime for a civics brush-up or an etiquette book, he says. Fireworks, sparklers and picnic not included.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.

Fast Facts:


Flying the flag

The U.S. flag may be displayed every day but it is particularly appropriate on these days:

New Year's Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, third Monday in January

Inauguration Day, Jan. 20

Lincoln's Birthday, Feb. 12

Washington's Birthday, third Monday in February

Easter Sunday

Mother's Day, second Sunday in May

Peace Officers Memorial Day (half-staff), May 15

Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May

Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), last Monday in May

Flag Day, June 14

Father's Day, third Sunday in June

July Fourth

Korean War Veterans Day, July 27

Labor Day, first Monday in September

Patriot Day (half-staff), Sept. 11

Constitution Day, Sept. 17

Gold Star Mothers Day, last Sunday in September

Columbus Day, second Monday in October

Navy Day, Oct. 27

Election Day, first Tuesday in November

Veterans Day, Nov. 11

Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (half-staff), Dec. 7

Christmas Day, Dec. 25

Source: National Flag Foundation