The American Flag: Proper Care and Treatment

Memorial Day, for many homeowners, is the first celebratory day on which we hang our flags. However, many of us are unfamiliar with the proper display, care and disposal of the American flag.

American Flag (Gerd Altmann |

Photo credit: Gerd Altmann |

CARE AND RESPECT: The American flag should always be treated with the utmost care and respect. The flag represents a living country and, as such, is considered a living thing.

  • Always display the flag with the blue union field up; never display the flag upside down, except as a distress signal.
  • Always hold the flag carefully; never let it touch anything beneath it – the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.
  • Always carry the flag aloft and free; never carry it horizontally.
  • Always keep the flag clean and safe; never let it become torn, soiled or damaged.
  • Always dispose of a flag properly; preferably by burning it.
  • Always treat the flag with respect. Never use it for advertising purposes. Never embroider it on household items or pieces of clothing. Never use it as part of a costume or athletic uniform. Exception: It is proper to attach a flag patch to the uniform of military personnel, fire fighters, police officers and members of other patriotic organizations, provided the patch is properly affixed. (Note: “properly affixed” is best understood by referring to the flag code.)


  1. Two people face each other, each holding one end of the flag. Stretch it horizontally at waist height and fold in half lengthwise.
  2. Fold the flag in half lengthwise again; the union (blue field) should be on the outside with edges held together.
  3. One person holds the flag by the union while the other starts at the opposite end by making a triangular fold.
  4. Continue to fold in triangles until the flag resembles a cocked hat with only the blue field showing.
Fold American Flag (Richardw |

Photo credit: Richardw |


  • The American flag, adopted on June 14, 1777, is the fourth oldest national flag in the world. Denmark’s flag, adopted in 1219 is the oldest.
  • A flag expert is called a “vexillologist”.
  • The blue field on the American flag is called the “union”.
  • On Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), to honor all who died in battle, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff for the remainder of the day.
  • Since 1834, the American flag has flown continuously next to the grave of the Revolutionary War hero, The Marquis de Lafayette, near Paris, France.
  • June 14th was proclaimed Flag Day by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. While Flag Day was a popular celebration in scores of communities for many years after Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation, it didn’t receive its official Congressional designation until 1949.

DISPLAYING THE FLAG PROPERLY: Because the American flag is the symbol of our country, it should always be displayed in the most prominent, most honored position. No other flag should ever appear more important.

  • American FlagOn a wall: When the flag is displayed on a wall, it should be displayed with the union uppermost and to the observer’s left.
  • In Multi-National Flag Displays: In the United States, the American flag is to be displayed first –“ to its own right” – followed by the flags of all the other countries (at equal height and in alphabetical order) to the left (observer’s right) of the American flag.
  • Among Subordinate Flags: When the American flag is among a group of subordinate flags, such as state and organization flags, the American flag should be at the center and at the highest point, the position of prominence.
  • Displayed from a staff: When displayed from a staff, the flag should hold the position of prominence, in advance of the audience and to the speaker’s right (facing the audience). If other flags are also displayed, they should be placed to the speaker’s left.
  • On a pole: When several flags are flown from the same flag pole, the American flag should always be at the top, except during church services by naval chaplains at sea when the church pennant may be flown above the American flag on the ship’s mast.
  • Among peers: When flags from two or more nations are displayed, the flag code forbids the display of any nation’s flag in a position superior to another in time of peace. Therefore, each flag should be approximately equal in size and flown at the same height.
  • On the lapel: When the flag is displayed as a lapel pin, it should be worn on the left lapel, near the heart.

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