Feature   Know Your Military

Do's and Don'ts for Displaying Old Glory

July 1, 2019 | BY Susan H. Lawson

This week, American flags will be displayed across the nation in celebration of the Independence Day holiday. Following a few guidelines can ensure we are displaying Old Glory properly.

In 1923, the U.S. National Flag Code was created and distributed nationwide. The code became Public Law in 1942 and became the U.S. Flag Code we know today. The U.S. Flag Code lays out the ways to display and respect the flag of the United States.

For example:

  • The flag should not be on display outdoors during bad weather.
  • The flag should not be used for advertising purposes, or embroidered on cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins or boxes.
    Reflection of flag, Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
    Flag Refelction
    The American flag is reflected in some of the names etched into "The Wall" of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, July 22, 2015.
    Photo By: Army Sgt. Ken Scar
    VIRIN: 150722-A-ZU930-007C
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery.
  • It should never be displayed upside down unless trying to convey a sign of distress or great danger.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it; this includes water, merchandise and even the floor.
    Airman saluting flag.
    Flag Salute
    Air Force Senior Airman Jessica Preidis, 88th Comptroller Squadron financial service technician, salutes during a retreat ceremony at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, May 7, 2019. The retreat ceremony serves as the end of the official duty day and pays respect to the flag.
    Photo By: Michelle Gigante, Air Force
    VIRIN: 190506-F-AL359-1006C
  • When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.
    Flags are hung in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.
    Hanging Flags
    Dan Frye, top left, facilities maintenance electrician, and Ray Coppage, facilities maintenance mechanic work lead, hang American flags in Arlington National Cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater, May 21, 2018. Forty-three American flags are hung in the Memorial Amphitheater during observances of Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
    Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Army
    VIRIN: 180521-A-IW468-486C

Other Do's and Don'ts:

  • Clean and damage-free flags should always be used. Dirty, ripped, wrinkled or frayed flags should not be used. Also, when flags are damaged, they should be destroyed in a dignified manner. 
  • The U.S. flag should flow freely in the wind or in a lobby with a passing breeze as people walk past. Stretching a flag is a lot like walking around with your arms held out straight. It is not to be held captive by metal arm spreaders as if to say, "Look at me!"
    Sailors perform evening colors.
    Flag Wave
    Sailors perform evening colors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the western Pacific Ocean, March 8, 2018.
    Photo By: Navy Seaman Apprentice Ethan Soto
    VIRIN: 180308-N-VQ841-0062C
  • Staffs and finials should always be upright and not leaning.
  • Clamping a U.S. flag to a vehicle's antenna is acceptable, or the flagstaff clamped to the right fender, as long as the flag displays in the proper direction.
  • Service flags are displayed in order of service precedence, not the host service where they are displayed. The order of precedence is Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
    Army music unit wearing 18th-century style uniforms participates in parade.
    Marching Soldiers
    Soldiers with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Fife and Drum Corps and the U.S. Army Continental Color Guard participate in a parade in Basel, Switzerland, July 22, 2017. The parade was part of the soldiers’ participation in Basel Tattoo 2017, the world’s second-largest military music event.
    Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Lynch
    VIRIN: 170722-A-XX999-008C
  • When displaying the U.S. flag with other flags, the U.S. flag comes first and is centered in the middle of a flag display. In addition, the U.S. flag must be placed higher than the other flags, unless other national flags are present. In that case the U.S. flag would be the same height.
  • Buntings are a good way to display the national colors and decorate for Independence Day without discrediting the U.S. flag.

(Susan H. Lawson is assigned to Panama City Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City, Florida.)