By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
The flag goes deep into American culture. It inspired the national anthem during an attack by British forces in the War of 1812. Its raising over Iwo Jima in World War II became one of history’s best-known images.
Its symbolism isn’t limited to war against foreign foes. Those struggling to secure civil rights displayed Old Glory as they marched into Selma, Ala. Schoolchildren face it as they learn the republic’s values in the Pledge of Allegiance. Patriots from President to private are honored in death with a flag draped over their coffins.
Since Congress adopted it on June 14, 1777, the Stars and Stripes has been one of the nation’s most recognized and accessible symbols. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson declared June 14 a nationwide Flag Day; Congress made the observance permanent in 1949.
President Barack Obama urged Americans to fly the flag throughout this week and to use the time from June 14 through July 4 to “honor America, celebrate our heritage … and recite publicly the Pledge of Allegiance.”
How people treat the flag says a lot about them, Lee County Veteran Service Officer Terry Carlock said.
“It tickles me to honor the flag and to see others honoring it,” he said. Some people, though, do not show honor to the flag, he said – often a handful of people at a ball game, for instance.
“When they introduce the players, and some of the players won’t even respect the flag, that’s what gripes me,” Carlock said.
Sgt. Weaver Cain, who serves on the Oxford Police Department’s honor guard, said, “The public in general pretty much acknowledges the flag, but a lot of people may not know the proper etiquette.”
Cain said flags should be displayed only in good condition.
“They should be cleaned and mended as needed,” he said. “And (unlighted) flags should be taken down before nightfall.”
Other highlights of flag etiquette include the following.
• Never display with the union downward except as a signal of extreme emergency that immediately threatens life and/or property.
• The flag should not be used on clothing, costumes or athletic uniforms. A flag patch may be used on the uniforms of military personnel, firefighters, police officers and members of patriotic organizations.
• The flag should never touch anything beneath it such as the ground or floor, office equipment or water.
• The flag should never have placed upon it any mark or design of any kind.
• On Memorial Day the flag is displayed at half staff until noon and at full staff from noon to sunset. The flag is also flown at half staff in mourning for designated, principal government leaders and upon presidential or gubernatorial order. When that occurs, the flag should be raised to the top of the flagpole both before being lowered to half staff and again before it is lowered for the evening.
• When the flag passes in a procession, or when it is hoisted or lowered, all present should face the flag and salute – in the case of civilians, with their right hands over their hearts and with headwear off.
• When a flag is tattered or faded, it should be retired by burning in a respectful ceremony.
Boy Scout offices collect flags for such ceremonies, and the American Legion building in Tupelo has a drop-off box where worn flags can be deposited any time.
“We are going to have a retirement ceremony July 11 at 5:30 p.m. as part of the state convention,” Carlock said. “We do the inspection of flags, play ‘Taps,’ and then retire the flags.”