When flying the American flag, always make sure the stars are visible to the left of the viewer.

When flying the American flag, always make sure the stars are visible to the left of the viewer.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

The Stars and Stripes in all its Old Glory

Experts offer advice for flying, caring for American flags

By: Maria Allard | Metro | Published January 26, 2021

METRO DETROIT — For many Americans, especially military veterans, the U.S. flag waving in the breeze brings a sense of pride, honor and patriotism.

With its red, white and blue motif, flying Old Glory on your property is enjoyed by those who want to celebrate the home of the brave.

Whether draped on a wall or door inside your home, the focal point of a window or displayed on the front porch outside, there’s a certain flag etiquette to follow when flying the Stars and Stripes.

According to the National Museum of American History website at americanhistory.si.edu, Congress adopted a U.S. Flag Code in 1942 that set forth a suggested list of flag protocol. For starters, always make sure the stars are to the left of the viewer.

“Whether it’s horizontal or vertical, the stars go on the top upper left corner,” said Jane Miles, owner of American Flag and Banner in Clawson. Per etiquette, Miles added that the U.S. flag is not supposed to fly during inclement weather.

Also important is purchasing the right-size flag based on the height of the flagpole or bracket. American Flag and Banner stocks all kinds of flags; the American flag is its biggest seller. When in the store, patrons also flag down state of Michigan, military, sports teams and college banners for their homes.

Miles said U.S. flag sales are strongest for the company between Memorial Day in late May and Labor Day in early September.

According to Randell J. Shafer, commander of the Walter F. Bruce Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 1146 in St. Clair Shores, the U.S. flag must never touch the ground or anything beneath it. Do not fasten the fabric or use it in a way that it could easily become torn, soiled or damaged.

“We take pride in our flags. We don’t want them ripped, dirty or have spots,” Shafer said.

There are natural elements to look out for that can damage a flag.

“In a lot of sun, they can fade,” Miles said, adding “the whiplash of the wind” also can alter the material.

A “Grand Old Flag” also should only be displayed from sunrise to sundown.

“If you don’t have a light to illuminate it at night, it should be taken down,” Shafer said. “That is the proper etiquette. It’s respect for the flag. We don’t want to hang it anywhere that is dark.”

As for the small U.S. flags that stick into the ground, the material should be high enough that it doesn’t touch the ground. Shafer also provided tips when flying the American flag at half-staff, which is the position of a flag flown below the top of its staff when mourning a person who died.

“You approach the flag and you salute the flag,” the post commander said. “Bring it down to half-staff. After you’re done memorializing the person, you salute the flag, bring it down all the way and then all the way back up.”

When the American flag becomes worn and tattered, there is a proper way to lay it to rest by way of a flag retirement ceremony. Local veterans groups and Scout troops have been known to hold such ceremonies, usually around Flag Day June 14. The Bruce Post, for example, collects frayed flags throughout the year from community members for its annual ceremony.

Miles said that prior to a flag ceremony, the stars and stripes are separated. Once that happens, “it’s not a flag anymore” and therefore can be retired properly. Flags are then ceremoniously burned according to specific protocols.

“If a flag is retired, you’re not supposed to make it into anything else, a scarf, T-shirt or patch,” Shafer said. “Once a flag is retired, it’s retired.”

The Flag Shop and JH Corp., located in Livonia, stocks U.S., military, foreign country, state, historical, novelty flags and more.

“Most of our customers love our country and want to show it. We also get a lot of military veterans that have tremendous pride in the country and their service,” the Flag Shop and JH Corp. owner and President Amy Spahr said in an email. “If you want a quality flag, the first thing to look for is whether the flag is made in the U.S. USA-made flags with sewn stripes and embroidered stars are the best quality. Printed flags are lesser quality, fade and tatter faster, and will not last as long.”

According to Spahr, the lifespan of a flag depends on the weather and how the flag is cared for.

“Flags will fade, and fly ends will tatter. In general, if left out 24/7, we find nylon flags to last 6-9 months, perhaps 12 months in a residential application where there’s not a lot of wind,” Spahr said in her email. “Personally, I have a pole attached to my house with a nylon flag. I change it once a year. It’s rarely tattered, but it is faded after a year.”

Spahr offered some steps people should follow to care for their flags.  

“Unless you have a light on your flag, it should be taken down at night. Even if you have a light, taking it down at night will prolong its life,” she said. “Taking it down during high winds or bad storms will also prolong its life. If needed, you can also hand wash with gentle detergent.”

Residents who live at apartment buildings or condominiums should check with their landlords or associations to determine any regulations regarding flag displays.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the American flag should be flown on all days, especially:

New Year’s Day
Inauguration Day
Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday
Abraham Lincoln’s birthday
George Washington’s birthday
Easter Sunday
Mother’s Day
Armed Forces Day
Memorial Day
Flag Day
Father’s Day
Independence Day
Labor Day
Constitution Day
Columbus Day
Navy Day
Veterans Day
Thanksgiving Day
Christmas Day

Also, on days proclaimed by the U.S. president, birthdays of states and state holidays.