2010-05-26 / Front Page

Do you know Memorial Day Flag Flying Traditions?

By Jason D. Antos

This Monday, Americans will remember the brave men and women who have died in war on Memorial Day. Like all deaths honored by the country, flags will fly at half-staff. 

However, on Memorial Day, the American flag only flies at half-staff from midnight until noon and then is raised to full height from noon until sundown. This unique custom honors the dead for the morning and the living veterans for the remainder of the day. Another purpose for raising the flag is to also symbolize the nation’s persistence in the face of loss.                    

Although no one knows the exact date this tradition began the earliest evidence dates back to an Army regulations book from 1906 that carries instructions for the procedure.

In 1924, Congress put the tradition into law with U.S. Code Title 4, Section 6, with the proclamation, “For the nation lives, and the flag is a symbol of illumination.”        

The origin of a half-raised flag as a way to honor the dead is also unclear. Some experts say the lowered flag allows room for an invisible flag of death to fly above it. Others point to the tradition in naval warfare of lowering a flag to indicate surrender. There are also claims that lowering a flag symbolically recreates the ancient Greco-Roman tradition of signaling death with a broken column or staff.   

The first Memorial Day occurred on May 30, 1868 three years after the end of the American Civil War.     
 

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