American Flag Manual

American Flag Manual

American Flag Manual

The American Flag: A Manual for Proper Display and Etiquette

The American flag, an iconic symbol of freedom and unity for over two centuries, embodies the values and aspirations of the nation it represents. As a cherished national emblem, its proper display and handling hold great significance, governed by a comprehensive set of rules and customs known as the American Flag Manual. This manual, first issued in 1917 by the United States War Department, serves as a guide for all Americans, ensuring the flag is treated with the reverence it deserves.

Display Guidelines

The American Flag Manual outlines specific guidelines for the proper display of the flag under various circumstances, ranging from private homes to government buildings and public events. These guidelines include:

  • Position: The flag should always be flown from the top of a staff or pole, at a height above all surrounding objects.
  • Orientation: When displayed vertically, the union (the field of stars) should be on the viewer’s left, and the stripes should extend horizontally. When displayed horizontally, the union should be on the top left, with the stripes extending downward.
  • Dimensions: The proportions of the flag should adhere to the official ratio of 1.9:1 (width to length).
  • Flagpole: The flagpole should be sturdy enough to withstand wind and other elements. It should be painted white to enhance visibility and prevent rust.
  • Flying Times: The flag should be flown from sunrise to sunset, weather permitting. During inclement weather, it may be temporarily taken down and stored.
  • Half-staff: The flag should be flown at half-staff as a sign of mourning or respect for fallen heroes. To lower the flag to half-staff, first raise it to the top of the staff, then lower it halfway and secure it.

Handling and Maintenance

Beyond the rules governing its display, the American Flag Manual also provides guidelines for proper handling and maintenance of the flag, ensuring its longevity and respectful treatment. These guidelines include:

  • Cleanliness: The flag should be kept clean and free of dirt or debris. It should be washed carefully according to manufacturers’ instructions and never placed in a washing machine or dryer.
  • Storage: When not on display, the flag should be stored flat or folded neatly in a protective box or container.
  • Disposal: When a flag becomes worn or faded beyond repair, it should be retired with dignity and respect. The traditional method of flag retirement involves holding a flag-burning ceremony, where the flag is burned completely while observing proper protocol.

Respectful Gestures

The American Flag Manual also emphasizes the importance of respectful gestures when the flag is present. These gestures include:

  • Salute: The flag should be saluted by standing at attention, facing it, and raising the right hand to the forehead with the palm flat and pointing down.
  • Dipping: When the flag passes by, it is customary to dip any flag being carried or flown as a sign of respect.
  • Kneeling: Kneeling or bowing to the flag is not considered disrespectful, as it is a personal expression of reverence.

Special Occasions

The American Flag Manual also provides guidelines for displaying the flag on special occasions, such as:

  • Memorial Day: On Memorial Day, the flag should be flown at half-staff from sunrise to noon, then raised to full-staff until sunset.
  • Fourth of July: On Independence Day, the flag should be flown from sunrise to sunset, weather permitting.
  • Veterans Day: On Veterans Day, the flag should be flown at half-staff from sunrise to noon, then raised to full-staff until sunset.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Can I display the flag upside down? No, the American flag should never be displayed upside down, as this signifies distress or a cry for help.
  • Can I use the flag as a tablecloth? No, the flag should not be used for any non-flag-related purposes, such as a tablecloth, bedding, or clothing.
  • Can I fly the flag in the rain or snow? While it is preferable to take the flag down in inclement weather, it may be flown if it is securely attached to the flagpole and not in danger of being damaged.
  • What should I do if I find a damaged flag? If you find a damaged flag, you can contact your local American Legion or VFW post for assistance in properly disposing of it.
  • Is it disrespectful to burn the flag? No, burning the flag is a traditional and dignified way to retire an old or damaged flag, as long as it is done in accordance with proper protocol.


  • American Flag Manual, United States Army, 1917
  • Public Law 94-344, U.S. Code, Title 36, Chapter 10
  • The Flag Code, United States Code Annotated, Title 4, Chapter 1

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