Flag etiquette: Here’s how to display, fold and dispose of Old Glory

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With Memorial Day and Flag Day right around the corner, it’s a good time for a reminder of how to properly handle the American flag.

Before we jump right to it, we want to give you some history on the Stars and Stripes.

The idea of celebrating the flag is believed to have originated in 1885. It started with a school teacher in Wisconsin who wanted to celebrate what was then the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of the Stars and Stripes. Now, we recognize Flag Day every June 14.

The flag first took on the nickname “Old Glory” thanks to Capt. William Driver, a sea captain who lived in Salem, Massachusetts, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The group says Capt. Driver’s mother and some local girls gave him the flag for his 21st birthday on March 17, 1824. Driver apparently loved the gift so much, he called it “Old Glory.”

It's Flag Day and we are celebrating by testing our our knowledge of the U.S. Flag. Amanda, Bruce, and Mel are answering the questions.

So as these days approach, do you know the right way to honor Old Glory and dispose of her if she becomes torn, soiled and tattered, or just worn out? What about how to display and honor the flag?

Below you will learn how to display the flag properly, dispose of the flag, and fold the flag, according to the VFW.

Displaying the Flag

On Same Staff: U.S. flag at peak, above any other flag.

Grouped: U.S. flag goes to its own right. Flags of other nations are flown at the same height.

Marching: U.S. flag to marchers right (observer’s left).

On Speaker’s Platform: When displayed with a speaker’s platform, it must be above and behind the speaker. If mounted on a staff it is on the speaker’s right.

Decoration: Never use the flag for decoration. Use bunting with the blue on top, then white, then red.

Salute: All persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the armed forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.

Over a Street: Union (stars) face north or east depending on the direction of the street.

Half Staff: On special days, the flag may be flown at half-staff. On Memorial Day it is flown at half-staff until noon and then raised.

Special Rules: Do not let the flag touch the ground. Do not fly the flag upside down unless there is an emergency. Do not carry the flag flat, or carry things in it. Do not use the flag as clothing. Do not store the flag where it can get dirty. Do not use it as a cover. Do not fasten it or tie it back. Always allow it to fall free. Do not draw on, or otherwise mark the flag.

Illumination Guidelines: Per Federal Flag Code, Section 2, paragraph (a), it is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.

Flag Disposal

  • The flag should be folded in its customary manner.
  • It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure the complete burning of the flag.
  • Place the flag on the fire.
  • The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.
  • After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished and the ashes buried.
  • Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.

There are a number of organizations that help with flag disposal. Among them are American Legion and VFW Posts as well as the Boy Scouts of America.

Folding the Flag

You can watch the tutorial below by The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) or follow these steps:

  • To begin, hold the flag waist high so that it’s parallel to the ground.
  • Fold the lower half of the stripe section lengthwise over the field of stars.
  • Fold the flag again lengthwise with the blue field on the outside.
  • Make a triangular fold and bring the striped corner of the folded edge to meet the open edge of the flag.
  • Turn the endpoint inward, parallel to the open edge, and form a second triangle.
  • Continue the triangular folding until the entire length of the flag is folded.
  • When done, only a triangular blue field of stars should be visible. If a hem protrudes beyond the blue field, it should be neatly tucked inside the folds of the flag so that it does not show.

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About the Author:

Carianne Luter is a social media producer for News4Jax and has worked at Channel 4 since December 2015. She graduated from the University of North Florida with a communication degree.