Rules of Flying an American Flag at Half Mast

by Pamela Martin

Flying the American flag at half-mast is a sign of respect for deceased officials, dignitaries and heroes. Although it does not carry the force of law, the U.S. Flag Code, signed in March 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower, provides guidelines for the process and duration.

Authority to Issue the Order

Under the Flag Code, only the president or a state governor should proclaim a half-mast flag display, although the heads of government departments may make such an order for a building or vessel under their control. Generally, this type of display is reserved for a period of national or statewide mourning.

Customary Dates and Display Duration

It is customary for the flag to fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset, except on Memorial Day, when it is returned to full height at noon. Annual half-mast displays include Memorial Day, Patriots Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Peace Officers Memorial Day and National Firefighters Memorial Day. An individual’s position determines the duration of the display. For current and former presidents, a 30-day observation is customary, while the flag is lowered for 10 days following the death of a vice president, current or retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or House Speaker. For some other officials, the display lasts from the day of death to the day of interment, while others are honored on the day of death and the following day.

Hoisting the Flag

Raise the flag quickly to the top of the pole and then lower it slowly to the mid-point.

About the Author

Pamela Martin has been writing since 1979. She has written newsletter articles and curricula-related materials. She also writes about teaching and crafts. Martin was an American Society of Newspaper Editors High School Journalism Fellow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in elementary education from Sam Houston State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum/instruction from the University of Missouri.

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