Driving around on a given day, you may come across a flag that is flying at half-staff. Believe it or not, there actually is a method and reasoning behind when flags are supposed to fly at half-staff.
Flying a flag at half-staff means that the flag is flying halfway on the flagpole – exactly half way between the top and bottom of the flagpole – and it not only symbolizes grief and mourning, but also respect.
There is a proper procedure to flying the flag at half-staff. According to United States Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7(m):
“The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.”
Flags fly in instances of national distress, remembrance and recognition of various holidays, or following the death of certain governmental officials. Additionally, according to the U.S. Flag Code, the President, state governors and the Mayor of Washington, D.C. have the power to order flags to fly at half-staff. The power to order flags at half-staff is considered an honor and is only kept as a responsibility of those in charge.
The dates that are the most recognizable for flying flags at half-staff are:
- May 15th– known as Peace Officer’s Memorial Day, flags fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset
- Memorial Day – this day always falls on the last Monday of the month of May; flags fly at half-staff from sunrise to noontime
- September 11th – known as Patriot Day, flags fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset
- December 7th – known as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, flags fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset
Following the death of certain government officials, flags are ordered to fly at half-staff:
- Following the death of the President or a former President for 30 days
- Following the death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives for 10 days
- Following the death of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State from the day of death until interment
- Following the death of a Member of Congress for the day of death and the following day
Why do we fly our flags at half-staff?
While there is not a definite record or formality of when flags were first flown at half-staff, the oldest commonly accepted reference to a half-staff flag dates back to 1612. The captain of the British ship Heart’s Ease died while searching for the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Crewmembers flew the ship’s flags at half-staff to mourn the passing of their captain, signifying it as a practice for grieving.
It is proper etiquette to raise the flag quickly to the top of the flagpole before lowering to half-staff; it symbolizes the salute for remembrance or the deceased.