(A guest post for the blog at Re:Vision North Carolina)
Walking through my local big box store, I see the United States flag all around. Is it really “what so proudly we hailed” if it’s in the form of a bikini top or swim trunks? At $5, I did have to buy my son some swim trunks. I figured they were colorful and I could easily spot him in the crowd. Seeing all the flag paraphernalia, though, made me wonder.
Does anyone know what is significant about June 14? Anyone? Anyone? Ok, well, it’s not usually a day off work or anything, but it is one of the observances I learned about as a kid. It’s Flag Day!
I remember spending significant time in elementary social studies (a few weeks is significant time in elementary school) learning about the flag: appropriate handling, appropriate display, appropriate storage, and appropriate disposal. Education about the flag included the history and a few legends.
One particular legendary quote remains somehow tucked in the crevices of my grey matter. From the poem Barbara Frietchie by John Greenleaf Whittier:
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, But spare your country's flag," she said.
Purportedly, 96 year old Barbara Frietchie boldly said those words to Stonewall Jackson after proudly displaying the flag from her attic window and Jackson’s Confederate troops had just shot the banner at his command. At risk of her own life, Frietchie would not allow disrespect of the Union flag!
It used to be that wearing the flag on items such as those I saw at the store would be considered disrespect and desecration. There’s still a little, a very little, debate about the appropriateness of wearing the flag. I can remember when I was a teen in the 70’s that a young man was arrested for wearing a shirt made from flag fabric.
Apparently, societal shifts have brought social acceptance to wearing flag apparel. Covering oneself in the Stars and Stripes is now viewed as patriotic rather than disrespectful. T-shirts with the American flag would make me feel well-dressed at July 4th activities (and on Flag Day for that matter!)
But does anyone know the Standards of Respect due the American Flag?
Some instruction in the etiquette of the American flag, according to www.usaflag.org:
The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.
When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms.
To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.
The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states, localities, or societies are grouped for display.
When used to cover a casket, the flag should be placed with the union at the head and over the left shoulder. It should not be lowered into the grave.
I don’t remember all the Standards of Respect from my social studies class, but I did remember today is Flag Day. So, tell someone you know that today is Flag Day. Your friends just might not know.