Honor the U.S. flag ‘whenever it passes’

Published 7:28 am Friday, July 4, 2008

Basing a column on our nation’s flag is, in my estimation, the perfect topic for the Fourth of July.

Now I realize that this column is intended for publication a day after Albert Lea’s July 3 parade. Thus, what I have as comments regarding flag courtesy during a parade situation has to apply to next year’s July 3 celebration. Also, there could be some understandable comments or possible corrections to what follows.

Frankly, there seems to be some confusion regarding what to do when a flag passes by during a parade. Some folks say the proper way is to stand, remove any head covering, and place the right hand over the heart. They also say this act of patriotic respect should only apply to the first flag unit leading the parade. However, there may be other flags being displayed by other units and bands later in the parade. This implies that folks could just stay seated as those other flags go by.

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My personal thought is to pay respect to those other flags if they’re carried by people. I just can’t get too excited about a collection of small American flags being used to outline the sides of a flatbed trailer or as patriotic decorations for a float.

Also, standing up for those other displayed flags carried by people in a parade shows respect for our national emblem and provides an opportunity to get a slight amount of exercise.

Right about here someone is likely to mention the U.S. Flag Code. Well, folks, here’s a pertinent update on part of this code. Maybe an answer for honoring the flags in a parade, plus a few other details, can be found in the following item published in the July 2008 issue of the American Legion Magazine.

“A change to Section 9 of the U.S. Flag Code written into the Defense Authorization Act this year now gives veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Forces the authority to render a salute to the flag, whether or not they are in uniform or wearing identifying veteran apparel such as an American Legion cap. All others present should remove any headwear, face the flag and place their right hand over their heart. … These acts are to be conducted anytime there is a hoisting or lowering of the U.S. Flag, whenever it passes. Citizens of foreign countries should stand at attention.”

To my way of thinking, the key words in this quote are “whenever it passes.”

Another item mentioned in the Legion magazine is based on using our flag’s design for articles of clothing. Some of these apparel items may be rather weird to behold. Yet, the American Legion Magazine says, “As long as they are not made from actual U.S. flags, patriotic articles of clothing and accessories featuring the Stars and Stripes are nor a violation of Flag Code.”

The topic of our flag reminds me of a school janitor I knew in the town where our family lived before moving to Albert Lea. One of his many daily assignments was to raise the flag on the pole before school started in the morning and take it down in the late afternoon. However, if it rained or snowed during the day, the superintendent’s office would get a telephone call or two saying the flag had to be taken down immediately. Those calls came from several neighbors who lived near the school and had all too much idle time on their alleged daily schedules.

This school’s superintendent was a real jerk who would then order the janitor to go out in the rain and take down the flag. If it happened to clear off later during the same school day, those same folks would call the superintendent’s office and wonder why the flag wasn’t at the top of the flagpole.

Thanks to those neighbors and the superintendent, this janitor was always on the losing end of a stupid situation regarding our flag. Yet, according to the Legion magazine, “The flag should not be displayed during inclement weather unless its is made from all-weather material such as nylon. Most modern flags are made of all-weather materials.”

There’s a thought in the last sentence worth considering by the American consumers. Somewhere in the long, long litany of imported (foreign-made) consumer goods, there should be at least one exception. Let’s insist that it’s our nation’s flag!

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.