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Why Is the Flag at Half Staff Today?

by Tracie Martin

LATEST HALF-STAFF ALERTS


Indefinitely

CONNECTICUT | In honor of those who have lost their lives or have been affected by COVID-19

ILLINOIS | In honor of all who have perished from COVID-19 in the Land of Lincoln

MICHIGAN | To honor and mourn those who lost their lives due to COVID-19

NEW JERSEY | In recognition and mourning of all those who have lost their lives and have been affected by COVID-19


NEW YORK | In honor of those we have lost to COVID-19

PENNSYLVANIA | In honor of the victims of the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic

Sunday, April 19, 2020 and the 19th of every month for the remainder of 2020

VERMONT | In honor of all Vermonters who have died due to COVID-19

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020 and the 19th of every month for the remainder of 2020

MINNESOTA | In honor of lives lost due to COVID-19

Tuesday, May 19, 2020 until sunset on Saturday, June 6, 2020

OHIO (Muskingum County) | In honor of Annie Glenn

Tuesday, May 26, 2020 until sunset on Saturday, May 30, 2020

CONNECTICUT | In honor of Connecticut State Police Trooper First Class Eugene Kenneth Baron, Jr.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 until sunset on Thursday, May 28, 2020

ALASKA | In honor of Representative Bob Lynn

LOUISIANA | In honor of Louisiana State Police Trooper George Baker


When we’re driving our kids to school or stopping at the bank and see it, we know. A flag flying at half-staff means our town, our state, or our nation is sharing a moment of grief. Ever wonder why, or who makes those choices? Here are some of the most common questions people have when they see a flag flying half-staff.

When should a flag fly at half-staff?

According to the VA,  flags are flown at half-staff (or half-mast, in naval terms) when the “whole nation is at mourning.” Sometimes, individual states and cities will decide to honor a local or regional loss with a half-staff flag.

The flag should be flown half-staff on Memorial Day in remembrance of deceased service members, but only from dawn until noon. Then, the flag is quickly raised full staff until sunset to honor living military veterans.

According to Jeff Hendricks, Deputy Director of Americanism at the American Legion, the American flag should be flown half-staff on these days, as well:

Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15), unless that day is also Armed Forces Day (third Saturday in May)
Patriot Day (September 11)
National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service (traditionally the first Sunday in October).
Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7)

Where does the tradition come from?

The origins of this tradition are a little murky. Some researchers point to a 1612 account of the British ship Heart’s Ease. The captain died on a journey to Canada, and the ship was flying its flag at half-mast in his honor when it returned to London.  In the United States, one of the earliest references to a half-staff flag order came after the death of George Washington, when the Navy ordered all their vessels to “wear their colours half mast high.”

What should I do if I can’t lower my flag?

Many home flag sets, such as the kind flown from porches or mounted to a floor indoors, aren’t designed for half-staff use. The American Legion’s Jeff Hendricks suggests an alternative, though it’s not written in the flag code: “An accepted patriotic practice for a display of mourning is to attach a black ribbon or streamer at the top of an American flag.” The ribbon should be flag-length and the same width as a full flag stripe. (You can find some handy tips for how to make a memorial ribbon here, but the American Legion also offers one for sale online.)

Do I have to do anything special?

Actually, you do. While many might be tempted to simply raise a flag halfway up the pole and stop, or just lower it at the end of the day, there’s more ceremony involved than that. According to the flag code, “The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.”

Who decides that a flag should be flown half-staff?

Typically, the President makes this decision for a national remembrance, and state or territorial governors make the decision for a local remembrance. However, federal government agency and department leaders can also order lowered flags on areas they manage, and it’s not uncommon for community leaders, school districts, or companies to order all their flags lowered to honor a local death.

How can I find out why a flag is at half-staff?

The simplest way is to bookmark this page to see our daily update. The American Legion offers email notifications of federal half-staff days, and you can check your state governor’s website to learn about state-level flag honors.


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