SHERIDAN — Hundreds of American flags will be displayed throughout Sheridan County this Memorial Day weekend. While it is a great showing of patriotism and appreciation for veterans, there are proper and improper ways to display your flag.
Perhaps the best-known points of etiquette note that the flag is not to be displayed upside down, except in instances of extreme danger to life or property and that the flag should never touch the ground. But beyond these examples, many people are unfamiliar with proper flag etiquette.
Flag etiquette is outlined in the Flag Code. The code was created June 14, 1923, and adopted by the National Flag Conference, which was comprised of 68 organizations. In 1942, Congress passed a joint resolution making the code law. The code includes rules for use and display of the flag, conduct during playing of the national anthem and manner of delivery. Contrary to popular belief, the code does not outline or impose penalties for misuse of the flag.
However, the code is thorough in prescribing how the flag should be handled in a variety of situations. For example, the code provides guidance on how a flag should be displayed when used on a speaker’s platform, on a vehicle, in a church, on a float in a parade, in a corridor and when flown in conjunction with flags of other countries.
Keith Davidson, a member of the Roy Montgomery Post 80 in Hulett and Department Commander of The American Legion Department of Wyoming, said the most common violations of flag etiquette he notices locally are tattered flags that are being flown, even though they are in poor condition.
“The other thing you see is people flying flags that are too large,” Davidson said. “The pole should be four times as tall as the flag is long. So, if you have a three and a half foot flag you should have it on at least a 20 or 25-foot pole. You see a few of those around that are just too big.”
Another common violation of the code includes flying the flag at night when it is not illuminated. As for flying the flag in inclement weather, it is permitted if the flag is considered an all-weather flag. Usually, an all-weather flag will be constructed of nylon and include brass grommets.
“People are unaware and we probably don’t teach it was well as we should,” Davidson said. “That is one of the things the American Legion tries to do and the other service organizations like the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the DAV (Disabled American Veterans).”
When a flag is faded, worn or tattered, it is considered unserviceable and can then be properly disposed of — often on Flag Day, June 14. At that time, flags are burned.
“Of course, the proper disposal method is burning,” Davidson said. “You don’t want to end up with a flag in the landfill. It represents the country, a living republic, and you don’t just want to throw it on the ground.”
“There is a complete ceremony they go through,” Davidson explained, noting that the ceremony is meticulous and somber. “You do a complete inspection and give the authorization to dispose of properly. When I participated it has been a public ceremony. It is kind of like going to a funeral.”
The suggested procedure, outlined by the American Legion, is quite detailed. The post assembles at night, outside, with members aligned in two parallel rows about 20 feet apart, facing each other. A small fire is kept burning opposite the commander and beyond the rows of members.
A formal ceremony is then held and the flags are inspected.
After inspection and words by the commanders and chaplain, the flags are dipped in kerosene and placed on a rack over the fire.
Anyone with a tattered or worn flag can give it to the Legion for proper disposal.
A painted red, white and blue drop box (a former mailbox) is located next to the entrance to the American Legion Post No. 7 building on Brooks Street.
Flags can be put in the box at any time.
Davidson suggested people who fly the flag at home or use a flag in a ceremony familiarize themselves with the Flag Code on the American Legion website.
If you are in need of a new flag, Davidson said American-made flags are available on the website and if you specify during the purchase, a portion of the proceeds will go to the local Legion Post No. 7.
The website is www.legion.org.