The five Dallas police officers who were murdered on July 7 had scarcely been buried – one funeral procession stretched for at least a mile – than three more officers were murdered in Baton Rouge, La., on July 17 in an ambush by a crazed, ex-Marine member of the Nation of Islam.
Our hearts sank in sorrow and dismay as our national emblem was once again lowered.
The United States Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, also known as the Flag Code, contains no proscription against civilians or civilian organizations flying the flag at half-staff – exactly. Generally, the code states that only the President of the United States may order the flag flown at half-staff for various government officials and even certain foreign dignitaries.
However, under subsection “m”:
“ m) 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. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff. By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law. In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff. The flag shall be flown at half-staff thirty days from the death of the President or a former President; ten days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress. As used in this subsection –
(1) the term ‘half-staff’ means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff;
(3) the term ‘Member of Congress’ means a Senator, a Representative, a Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.
No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.”
During the Vietnam War, the flying, and particularly, the destruction of the American flag, was a sensitive issue. Ultimately, the Supreme Court decided in 1966 that the destruction of the flag was considered a right protected the First Amendment. Flags were also being flown at half-staff for fallen soldiers, especially those from small towns. Members of the military considered this to be not quite a proper use of the American flag, as provisions had been made for the flying of the flag at half-staff on Memorial Day and Veterans Day to specifically honor all those who had served and died as well as veterans of the Armed Services.
This way the flag would not have to be flown perpetually at half-staff, destroying morale and permanently lowering, in effect, our national emblem and standard. In the 1990s, May 15 was declared Peace Officers, or Law Enforcement Officer, Day, to memorialize those who served and died in that capacity.
In 1970, Mrs. Michael Hoff, an MIA wife and member of the National League of POW/MIA Families, recognized the need for a symbol of our POW/MIAs. Prompted by an article in the Jacksonville, Florida, Times-Union, Mrs. Hoff contacted Norman Rivkees, Vice President of Annin & Company, which had made a banner for the newest member of the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as part of their policy to provide flags of all United Nations member states. Mrs. Hoff found Mr. Rivkees very sympathetic to the POW/MIA issue. He and an Annin advertising agency employee, Newt Heisley, designed a flag to represent our missing men.
Following approval by the League’s Board of Directors at a meeting held January 22-23, 1972, POW/MIA flags were manufactured for distribution. Wanting the widest possible dissemination and use of this symbol to advocate for improved treatment for and answers on American POW/MIAs, no trade mark or copyright was sought. As a result, widespread use of the League’s POW/MIA flag is not restricted legally. The large volume of commercial production and sales now required to meet demands of federal and state laws does not benefit the League financially, though Annin & Company did contribute a modest amount on one occasion.
On March 9, 1989, an official League flag – flown over the White House on National POW/MIA Recognition Day 1988 – was installed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda as a result of legislation passed overwhelmingly during the 100th Congress. In a demonstration of bipartisan Congressional support, the leadership of both Houses hosted the installation ceremony, at which League Executive Director Ann Mills-Griffiths delivered remarks representing the POW/MIA families.
The League’s POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever displayed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda where it stands as a powerful symbol of America’s determination to account for U.S. personnel still missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. On August 10, 1990, the 101st Congress passed U.S. Public Law 101-355, which recognized the League’s POW/MIA flag and designated it “the symbol of our Nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the Nation.”
The importance of the POW/MIA flag lies in its continued visibility, a constant reminder of the plight of America’s unreturned veterans. Other than “Old Glory,” the League’s POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever to fly over the White House, displayed since 1982 in this place of honor on National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
Passage by the 105th Congress of Section 1082 of the 1998 Defense Authorization Act required that the League’s POW/MIA flag fly six days each year: Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day and Veterans Day. It must be displayed at the White House, the US Capitol, the Departments of State, Defense and Veterans Affairs, the headquarters of the Selective Service System, major military installations as designated by the Secretary of Defense, all Federal cemeteries and all offices of the US Postal Service. In addition to the specific dates stipulated, the Department of Veterans Affairs voluntarily displays our POW/MIA flag 24/7. The National Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans and World War II Memorials are now also required by law to display the POW/MIA flag daily. Most State Capitols have adopted similar laws, as have local governments nationwide.
League policy on POW/MIA flag display was adopted at the League’s 32nd Annual Meeting in June, 2001. Members present overwhelmingly passed the following resolution: “Be it RESOLVED that the National League of POW/MIA Families strongly recommends that state and municipal entities fly the POW/MIA flag daily to demonstrate continuing commitment to the goal of the fullest possible accounting of all personnel not yet returned to American soil.”
Meaning no disrespect to our law enforcement officers, if we are not to yield our sovereignty, our domestic tranquility, and the rule of law to the mobs, can we really afford to leave our national flag in a perpetual state of mourning? Can we come up with some other answer to the problem of expressing our sorrow, outrage, and determination to support our law enforcement officers, as well as our military, without surrendering our flag?
The promoters of the POW/MIA flag recognized this dilemma.
Are there any enterprising designers out there who could design, perhaps, a general national flag of mourning that could answer to immediate purposes without having to resort to lowering the American flag at every individual, personal loss? Or one to recognize any one of the various civilian services affected by a crime or disaster?
Would the American people support the issuing of such a flag and would our legislative representatives propose the necessary legislation for making such a flag official, concomitant with the regulations regarding the display of said flag? Now, the POW/MIA flag is already officially flown on national holidays. But there’s nothing to say that this new flag couldn’t be flown on other days (which generally don’t occur on holidays).
Since police officers are killed in the line of duty nearly every day, we speak more specifically of those murdered. Even so, we can expect to see this proposed flag flying nearly every day.
But at least we’d see the American flag restored to her place of dignity and reverence, unsullied by the acts of criminals who have robbed law enforcement officers of their lives and citizens of their freedom and protection by said law enforcement officers.
It’s just my opinionated opinion, but the flag should never have been permitted to be lowered for anyone, other than our fallen military on Memorial Day and Veterans Day (those who served and survived, but died later in life), and yes, our fallen law enforcement officers on May 15, and the President and Vice President of the United States, in the event of their death. That should be it – on those specific dates. On Memorial and Veterans Days, incidentally, the flag is only flown at half-staff until noon, at which point, it is raised again.
Pardon me, I’d excluded D-Day, September 11th, and Pearl Harbor. Those were notably tragic days in U.S. history and rightfully should be commemorated by the flag flying at half-staff. Let us hope we don’t have too many more days like those days.
Otherwise, we might as well take Old Glory down and not have a flag at all, least of all a flag that’s supposed to represent freedom.