Honoring Old Glory: How to properly handle the American flag

The flag flies over the U.S. Capitol.


By AMY BANTON | Aiken Standard, S.C. | Published: June 14, 2013

AIKEN, S.C. — Today is all about Old Glory.

Flag Day honors the symbol of the United States and it’s a good time for a refresher course in how to properly handle the star-spangled banner.

The U.S. Flag Code is a long list of guidelines of how to display and care for the American flag. Here are a few key points.


Bob Patterson Jr. is an outside salesman for Flagsource Southeast Inc. He assists in the installation, sales and service of flags and poles.

Patterson said the flag code is a guide to be voluntarily followed by civilians and civilian groups.

Residents and local governments are allowed to proudly display their American flag 24/7 as long as it’s lit at night and is not tattered. The flag should also never hang upside down, which is a sign of distress, Patterson said.

The stars and stripes shouldn’t be displayed during inclement weather unless one is in possession of an all-weather flag, which is typically made of nylon.

Folding the flag

James Hallie Holland, the national vice commander for the American Legion of the Southeast region, said that when handling the flag, it’s important to avoid letting it touch the ground. If a flag happens to brush the floor or earth beneath it, he said that doesn’t mean it’s automatically unserviceable.

The minimum number of people needed to properly fold a regular sized flag is ideally three people, Holland said. A person is needed to fold the flag while two people hold it out.

Holland said he has seen as many as seven people participate in a flag folding ceremony.

Other rules of the American flag

Wearing an actual American flag is not acceptable, Holland said.

According to flag code, the flag should also never be used for advertising purposes and signs should not be attached to a staff or halyard from which Old Glory is flown.

If a flag is torn or soiled, it should be properly disposed of through burning in a formal ceremony held by various groups like the American Legion, Holland said.

An order by the president or governor of a state may request that the flag be flown at half-staff if there is a death of a present or former official of the government or there’s a national tragedy.

A flag flown halfway up its flagpole as a symbol of mourning is at half-staff, and a flag flown halfway up a ship’s mast to signal mourning or distress is at half-mast.

Holland said there is an online service offered that will send email alerts when an order to display a flag at half-staff is issued. Visit www.legion.org/flag/notification to sign up for those alerts.

What the flag means to Americans

Patterson said the American flag always played a large role in his life. He was a Boy Scout in his youth and is a retired Sergeant Major of the United States Army. Whenever Patterson went overseas, an American flag went with him.

“The flag itself, from the time I was small and then going into the service, has always been an important thing,” Patterson said. “The American flag represents the United States and, to me, the United States is the greatest country in the world.”

Holland said the flag represents the country and that many people have died defending it.

“This is what we look to. This is what we rally to,” Holland said. “It becomes a symbol. It’s something that we hold to a higher, higher value.”

For more information on flags or to view the U.S. Flag Code, visit www.usflag.org.