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Why does the American Flag Fly at Half-Mast at Times?

The term “half-mast” refers to the position of a flag when it is halfway between the top and bottom of a flagpole. It can also be referred to as flying “half-staff.” The flag does not have to be exactly halfway in between the flagpole, but it should be far enough down the pole to fit another flag above it. This is to symbolize space for the invisible flag of death.


The invisible flag of death is the only flag allowed to fly above the stars and stripes. It is meant to represent the nation’s mourning. There are certain occasions when the flag should be flown at half-mast.


A recent occasion when the flag was flown at half-mast on a national level was on February 21st, 2021, to honor the more than 500,000 American lives lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is more American lives lost in a single year than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. The solemn occasion was meant to reflect on the nation’s loss and the loved ones left behind. As a nation, we remember in order to begin to heal and to unite in these trying times.


Interested in the other occasions in which it is appropriate to fly the flag at half-mast? Read on to find out.


Occasions to fly the flag at half-mast:


  • Memorial Day
  • September 11th
  • National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
  • In the event of the U.S President’s death
  • In the event of the U.S Vice President’s death
  • In the event of a U.S Congress-Person’s death
  • In times of national mourning

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is observed by Americans on the last Monday in May. This holiday is a time when it is appropriate for the American flag to be flown at half-mast. You may enjoy the occasion with hot dogs and beer, but the day is actually meant to honor and mourn American lives lost in times of war. It’s also a day to honor surviving veterans.


On Memorial Day, the flag should be flown at half-mast from sunrise until noon. After noon, the flag should then be raised to full height from noon to sundown. This unique custom honors those who have died in war for the first half of the day and honors living veterans for the rest of the day.


September 11th

September 11th, 2001 was the date of the deadliest attack on US soil since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in World War II.


The New York Times called it the “worst and most audacious terror attack in American history.” And they’re right. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the 9/11 attack. This day was a time of terrible loss in America, and we still mourn this tragedy today.


Americans fly the flag at half-mast every year on September 11th to remember and honor those who died in the Twin Towers attack. It is also customary for schools and workplaces to take a few moments of silence on this day as well.

 

The day was traumatic for all American citizens, but there was a great sense of unification amongst American citizens during this time. The half-mast flag custom was a part of that unification process.


National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

December 7th serves as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Each year, Pearl Harbor survivors, veterans, and general visitors from all over the world come together to honor and remember the service members and civilians killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack took place on December 7th, 1941. In the attack, 2403 people were killed, and 1178 people were injured. The attack permanently sank two U.S Navy battleships (the USS Arizona and the USS Utah). A 188 aircraft was also destroyed in the attack.


This day serves as a national occasion to mourn those lost in a naval attack. The American flag should be raised to half-mast on this day to honor those lost on December 7th, 1941.


In The Event Of The U.S President’s Death

It is customary for the flag to fly at half-mast for thirty days at all federal buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout the US and its territories in the event of the death of the President of the United States. This protocol applies to presidents who die in office as well as former presidents.


Here are a few examples. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the flag flew at half-mast for thirty days. He was still in office when he was murdered. When former President George H. W Bush died in 2018, the flag also flew at half-mast for thirty days.


In The Event Of A U.S Vice President’s Death

When a U.S Vice President or former U.S Vice President passes away, the flag flies at half staff for ten days. This also applies when a chief justice or a retired chief justice of the United States Supreme Court or the speaker of the House of Representatives passes.


In The Event Of A U.S Congress-Person’s Death

When a congress-person passes away, the flag flies at half staff on the day of their passing and on the following day. Congressman Ron Wright passed away on February 8th, 2021, due to the Coronavirus. The flag was flown at half-mast to honor his service.


Half-Mast In Times Declared By The President Or State Officials

You may be wondering, what about half staffing to honor other citizens? This is up to the President of the United States or governor of a state to decide. A governor or POTUS is able to order the flag to be flown at half-staff in order to honor the death of a national figure. An example of this would be when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.


Barack Obama exercised this power in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Obama ordered the flag to be flown at half-mast on that day.


There are also occasions when the flag is lowered for public figures who were not U.S citizens. For example, in the past, the flag has been lowered for Nelson Mandela (2013), Pope John Paul II (2005), King Hussein of Jordan (1999), Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1995), Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (1981), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1965), and United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold (1961).


Private citizens and non-government buildings can also fly their flags at half-mast to mourn local leaders. The flag code does not exclude any citizen, whether belonging to an organization or not. The flag can be lowered to honor local religious leaders, youth leaders, teachers, sports coaches, local politicians, or local heroes. No government authorization is needed for a non-government sector to use the flag to honor any U.S citizen.


Show Your Support

Now that you know the reason why the flag is flown at half-mast and when it is appropriate to do so, you may be in need of a flag. Purchase your own flag to show your support as an American in times of national loss or mourning. Not sure where to buy a flag that you can trust? Allegiance Flag Supply offers the highest-quality flags available on the market today.


All Allegiance flags are made in America by American master seamstresses. Our company was founded by three friends who believed in producing a long-lasting American-made American flag, and we still stick with that idea.

 

To Sum It All Up

The American flag is more than just a red, white, and blue piece of fabric. It represents America and what America stands for. It is also used as a tool to unify the country in times of national mourning and loss.


If you are in need of an American flag to show your patriotism, check out Allegiance Flag Supply! They offer the best flags for your buck.


It is important to know why the flag is flown at half-mast at times. It is also very useful to have knowledge of when the flag is flown at half staff. The more you know about the American flag and its traditions, the more unified and informed you will be as an American citizen. We hoped this helped you become more educated on American half-mast flag customs!


Sources:

 

Flag Code FAQ: Half staff; half-mast | US History

Flying the American Flag at Half Staff | va.gov

U.S. ATTACKED; President Vows to Exact Punishment for 'Evil' (Published 2001) | NY Times

GOP Congressman Ron Wright Dies After COVID-19 Hospitalization | NPR