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Memorial Day 2020: American, Virginia Flag Display Etiquette

Patch logo Patch 5/24/2020 Deb Belt
a close up of a flag: Here are reminders on how to properly fly the American and Virginia flags on Memorial Day weekend. © Shutterstock Here are reminders on how to properly fly the American and Virginia flags on Memorial Day weekend.

VIRGINIA — During normal Memorial Day weekends, parades and ceremonies would bring Virginians together to honor those who have lost their lives in service to our country.

To be sure, we will lay patriotic-themed wreaths or bouquets of peonies on the headstones of military veterans and others we hold dear. But like almost everything else in Virginia, the coronavirus has upended this somber annual tradition.

One of the ways Americans can pay their respects from a safe distance on Memorial Day is by flying the flag the way it is done at any other time of national mourning, at half-staff.

It’s not as simple as raising the flag halfway up the flagpole and walking away, though.

The U.S. flag code is specific about that.

The flag should be briskly raised to the peak and remain there for an instant before it is slowly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains until noon. Then the flag is briskly hoisted to the peak again, where Old Glory remains until sunset, when it is slowly lowered.

It’s an important piece of symbolism. Until noon, the flag flies at half-staff as a memorial for the nation’s war dead; for the rest of the day, it flies full and high in a salute to living veterans.

The tradition predates the 20th century, National Flag Foundation Executive Director Clark Rogers told Live Science. “For the nation lives, and the flag is a symbol of illumination,” he said in explaining how the noon flag-raising symbolizes the perseverance of the nation in the face of loss.

Not everyone has a flagpole, of course.

For flags that are mounted from the side of a home, window or balcony, a black crepe streamer can be affixed to the staff immediately below the flag's spearhead — the golden ball or spear-shaped ornament at the top of the staff, according to media mogul Martha Stewart. On a standard-size flag, the crepe should be no wider than one foot.

In all cases, make sure the flag is in pristine condition and isn't tattered and torn, and that its red and white bars and the union (the blue field of stars) are bright and vibrant. If the flag is no longer suitable for display, dispose of it properly, preferably in a ceremonial burning. American Legion posts and other veteran groups often have flag-disposal ceremonies.

Virginia State Flag Rules

When flying a flag at half-staff, it should first be raised to its peak and then lowered to half-staff. Before lowering it for the day, it should first be raised to its peak and then lowered.

The State of Virginia flag shall be flown at half-staff on Memorial Day. On this day the state flag is displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.

There are no prescribed guidelines either in the Code of Virginia or in practice for disposal of the Virginia flag. Guidelines for disposal of the United States flag be followed, if possible. With any method, disposal should be carried out in a respectful manner.

Regulations for the U.S. flag are generally applied to the state flag. The positions of honor in a display of flags are:

  • U.S. flag in the position of highest honor (the observer's extreme left or the highest point in a grouping of flags)
  • The flag or flags of other nations ranked in alphabetical order
  • The Virginia flag

Observing proper etiquette is equally important at Memorial Day services at cemeteries and other venues. When the flag is hoisted:

  • Spectators who aren't in military uniform should face the flag, stand at attention and place their hands over their hearts.
  • Those who are in uniform should give a proper military salute.
  • A man who is not in uniform, but is wearing a hat, should remove it with his right hand and hold it at his left shoulder with his palm resting on his heart.
  • Attendees who are not U.S. citizens should stand at attention.
  • When the flag advances in a moving column, it is appropriate for all persons to salute it as it passes.

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