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Flag Etiquette and Protocol

Updated: Apr 5

Flag Day is celebrated on June 14 and commemorates the official adoption of the Stars and Stripes by the Second Continental Congress.

Anytime the flag is flown, it represents our identity as a sovereign nation. It is for this reason there are certain etiquette rules that guide our use. Listed below are 15 points that will help you fly your colors with pride.

1. Display the flag from sunrise to sundown.

2. The flag may be displayed at night, but it must be illuminated.

3. The flag can be flown any day of the year, but it is specifically encouraged on national holidays.

4. The flag is hung in every public location including schools and election polling sites.

5. When the flag is hung horizontally or vertically on a wall, the canton (blue square on the flag, also called the union) should be to the viewer’s top left.

6. If the U.S. flag is carried in a parade with other flags, it will always be the flag on the right (from the flag’s position). Or, it can be in front of all the other flags.

7. When displaying the flag on a stage with a speaker, it should always be to the flag’s right (audience’s left).

8. In the U.S., no other flag is flown above the U.S. flag.

9. If the U.S. flag is flown with another state flag on the same pole, the U.S. flag is flown on top.

10. If the U.S. flag is flown with another state flag, but on separate poles, then the U.S. flag is flown to the flag’s right (the observer’s left).

11. If several state flags are flown with the U.S. flag, and all poles are the same height, then the U.S. flag is flown to the flag’s right (observer’s left). If the center pole is higher, then the U.S. flag is flown in the center and always on the highest pole.

12. Only a state or MIA/POW flag may be flown on the same pole as the U.S. flag. Any other flag, like a company flag, may not fly on the same pole.

13. The canton (union) should be flown from the top of the staff.

14. Although not specifically stated in the flag code, it is recommended that all flags fly at least 3-5 feet from the ground, at minimum. This tidbit becomes more important when asking yourself how high off the ground to mount your home flag. Home flags may be flown in any prominent place on a house or tree.

15. Dispose of flags that are frayed or damaged. Protocol is to fold the flag in a triangle (as you would see during a funeral) and burn the flag in its entirety. While the flag is burning recite the Pledge of Allegiance and/or salute, followed by a moment of silence. End by burying the ashes.

If you are a civilian, here is a quick trivia point you might not know. When my son was in the military, I noticed the American flag on his right shoulder appeared backwards. The blue union was at the top right, yet all the protocol I just wrote about states the canton is always at the top left. I asked him about this. He said, “The flag on my left shoulder has the stars at the top left. The flag on my right shoulder has the stars at the top right. This gives the impression, no matter which shoulder you are viewing the flag is moving forward and into the wind.” I researched this further, and I will always remember the answer I found.

According to military tradition the flag is displayed on the uniform to appear as though a soldier is carrying the stars and stripes while constantly moving forward, presumably into battle. Thus the wind would cause the flag to wave backwards with the stars in the top right corner as the carrier of the flag advanced. Why is this visual important?

Because a U.S. soldier never retreats.

Together with you,

Lisa Lou


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