In the early days of our country, there were no regulations existed for flying the flag at half-staff. As a result, there were many conflicting policies. But on March 1, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a proclamation on the proper times.
During the nation’s time of mourning (title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7 of the United States Code) the flag is flown at half-staff for 30 days if the death of a current or former president, while the vice president, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Speaker of the House receive 10 days following their deaths. Flags fly at half-staff from the day of death until the date of interment for cabinet secretaries, Associate Juices of the Supreme Court, former vice presidents, and the governors of states. The death of a current member of Congress lowers the flag to half-staff on the day of death and the following day.
The President can give an executive order lowering the flag to half-staff to honor the passing of other important figures or tragic events. George W. Bush ordered the flags flown at half-staff until the internment of Pope John Paull II. When Nelson Mandela died in December 5th, 2013, President Obama ordered the flags lowered to honor Mandela until sunset on December 9th. Following the September 11th attacks in 2001, President Bush ordered the flags to be flown at half-staff until September 16th. The only people who have the right to order the flag at half-staff is the President, Governors of states, territories, and possessions have the authority under the federal flag code. The mayor of the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) also has the power to order the flag at half-staff.
There are rules for raising the flag to half-staff. You do not just raise it to half-staff. Properly raising the flag shows honor to our country and to our departed. The flag is to be treated as a living thing, and reflects the time of mourning. To properly fly the flag at half-staff in mourning, the flag must quickly ascend to the peak of the flag staff for an instant, and then lower slowly to half-staff reflecting the nation’s mourning. When the flag is lowered, it is raised to the finial for an instant, before being lowered.
During Memorial Day, the flag is raised to half-staff from dawn until noon, where it is quickly raised to the top. Memorial Day is a day of mourning, but we celebrate pride in our country and the memories of people who are no longer with us.
Now, what do you do if you have a fixed flag? Tradition says you should place a black ribbon above the flag.
Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have passed. Keeping the memory of the departed keeps us strong, and keeps them with us. If they are here with us in spirit they will be happy to know that we still think of them.