October 13, 2020

At Attention! Proper Flag Etiquette

We've just commemorated the 75th anniversary of World War II D-Day. 

While United States flags are typically on display in cities, at buildings and during meetings, sometimes a refresher on proper flag etiquette is helpful.  We've also got a lot so summer holidays (Memorial Day, Flag Day and Independence Day) that involve the display of our flags at work and at home. 

Do you and your city employees know the proper way to treat the U.S. flag?

Read the U.S. Flag Code. 

The Federal Flag Code says the universal custom is to display the U.S. flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flagstaffs in the open, but when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24  hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. Also, the U.S. flag should not be displayed when the weather is inclement except when an all-weather flag is displayed.


  • Display the flag at peak, above any other flag.
  • Position the flag on a platform or stage above and behind the speaker.
  • If mounted on a staff, it should be to the speaker’s right.
  • Go right – When displayed on a wall with another flag (such as the Commonwealth of Kentucky flag), the U.S. flag should be on the right, its right and the viewer’s left. Its staff should be in front of the other flag.
  • Go left – When displayed other than on a staff, the flag should be displayed flat, whether indoors or outdoors. It should be displayed with the union (stars) to the upper left whether vertical or horizontal.
  • Fly the flag at half-staff when appropriate – On special days, as deemed by the president of the United States, the flag may be flown at half-staff, primarily to recognize the death of principal U.S. figures or members of the military. A governor may also order the U.S. flag to be flown halfstaff at state facilities for similar reasons. On Memorial Day, the U.S. flag should be flown at half-staff until noon and then raised.

Do Not

  •  Let the flag touch the ground.
  • Fly the flag upside down unless there is an emergency.
  • Carry the flag flat or carry things in it.
  • Use the flag as clothing, decoration or cover.
  • Store the flag where it can get dirty.
  • Fasten it or tie it back. Always allow it to fall free.
  • Draw on or otherwise mark the flag.

Flagstaff and Finials

According to most sources, the crest at the flagstaff’s head on which the flag is displayed should be an American eagle. According to an American Legion source, the flagstaff topping ornaments are not subject to any restrictions under the flag code. As with many of the traditions and customs associated with the display of the flag, the standard flagstaff topping ornaments in common use come from the assortment allowed by military regulations. These include the eagle, acorn, gilt lance, ball, gilt star (Navy), spear, or flat truck (Navy). Most commonly used and encountered is the eagle.

For the Commonwealth of Kentucky flag, the crest at the flagstaff's head should be Kentucky’s state bird, the cardinal. It may be cast in brass, bronze or another appropriate material, and the cardinal must be in a restful but alert pose.

Flag Disposal
When the time comes to retire a flag, there is a proper procedure to use. It should be burned. There are several ways to elaborately and ceremoniously retire a flag. Here’s a simple and respectful procedure to follow:

  • The flag should be folded in its customary manner (see www.usflag.org for instructions on how to properly fold the flag).
  • It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure 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 conform to local/state fire codes or ordinances and follow safety precautions.

Note: Please contact your local VFW post if you’d like assistance or more information on proper flag disposal.

In response to a Supreme Court decision that held that a state law prohibiting flag burning was unconstitutional, Congress enacted the Flag Protection Act in 1989. It provides that anyone who knowingly desecrates the flag may be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year. However, this law was challenged in U.S. vs. Eichman, and the Supreme Court, in a 1990 decision, ruled that the Flag Protection Act violates free speech protections in the First Amendment. Public Law 94-344, known as the Federal Flag Code, contains rules for handling and displaying the U.S. flag. While the federal code contains no penalties for misusing the flag, states have their own flag codes and may impose penalties. The language of the federal code makes clear that the flag is a living symbol.


American Legion