Understand and follow proper flag etiquette

PARKERSBURG – Today is Independence Day, meaning there will be an abundance of American flags on display.

And a number of them may be displayed improperly, something that Washington, W.Va., resident Chas Carr takes personally.

“It’s disrespectful. And it hurts,” said Carr, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1996 to 2000 and in the West Virginia Army National Guard from 2007 to 2012 before being medically discharged. “Everything that we sacrificed, and everything that we go through, it’s just thrown out the window.”

The Federal Flag Code outlines the ways the national flag should be displayed. It notes the flag traditionally is flown from sunrise to sunset. If not taken down when darkness falls, it should be illuminated.

The code says the flag should not be flown during inclement weather unless it is made of an all-weather material. It should not touch the ground, floor, water or anything beneath it and should not be fastened, displayed or stored in a manner that can cause it to easily be torn or otherwise damaged.

At a local store recently, Carr said he saw an American flag stapled to a picnic table as part of a display. He confronted managers about it, and the flag was removed.

Although it frustrates him, Carr said he believes most people think they’re doing the right thing when they display the flag, and he often finds them willing to correct their errors.

That was the experience Mike Francis, senior vice commandant for the Marine Corps League Detachment 1087 of Wood County, had recently at a local post office, where he noticed a flag outside the building was torn. The person he spoke to in the office replaced the flag with a new one immediately.

“You’re supposed to replace a damaged, worn or soiled U.S. flag,” Francis said.

The local area is fortunate to have American Legion Post 15, which is willing to accept damaged flags to properly retire them, through burning, Francis said. The group will also assist people in obtaining new flags.

Despite the reverence in which many citizens hold the flag, according to a report prepared in 2008 for Congress on federal law related to display of the flag, “the Flag Code does not prescribe any penalties for non-compliance nor does it include enforcement provisions; rather the Code functions simply as a guide to be voluntarily followed by civilians and civilian groups.”

“It’s all voluntary,” Francis said. “You can’t be prosecuted for any of this. It’s just a personal choice to follow this.”

But, he added, “a lot of men and women have fought and died, defending not only the flag, but what it stands for.”

The Flag Code says it’s not appropriate to use the flag as an article of clothing or for advertising purposes. Francis said there are probably multiple ways to interpret that.

“That is a touchy subject,” he said.

Sylvie Caporale, owner of American Flags and Poles in Marietta, said that’s why many clothing manufacturers are careful not to use an exact replica of the flag on apparel- it may often have fewer than 50 stars, less than 13 stripes or display the flag in motion.

“I’ve found most manufacturers are conscientious about it,” said Caporale, who noted she owns multiple sweaters with American flag images. “It’s not the actual flag.”

The code advises against the flag being “embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”

Again, Caporale said most manufacturers go with an image to evoke the flag rather than an exact replica.

Carr said he understands people are trying to be patriotic when wearing clothes with flag patterns, but he would prefer they limit it to flag pins or patches.

As for advertising, Carr said it doesn’t bother him to see a flag in an ad to evoke a patriotic image, but he’s offended when a flag is used as a prop or draped around a product.

Caporale said she and her employees are happy to consult with individuals and organizations about proper display of the flag. The store has brochures on the subject.

Information about displaying the flag is available online, through sources like the American Legion, at www.legion.org/flag/code.

“I really hope that people can learn, instead of (saying), ‘Well, I thought this was right,’ make sure ahead of time,” Carr said. “Because it does mean a lot to a whole lot of people.”

Francis and the local Marine Corps League detachment recently started a flag etiquette and folding class aimed at fourth-grade students in Wood County. The goal is to instill a respect for the flag in children at a young age, especially with flag etiquette not being taught as frequently in schools.

Francis said he knows it worked on at least one child.

The day after conducting a class at Worthington Elementary, he said, a woman approached him and some other league members at lunch. She said her son had been in the class and later that evening, spotted an incorrectly folded flag on his uncle’s swing.

“This kid’s 10 years old and he immediately proceeds to tell his uncle, ‘That is not the proper way to fold the flag,'” Francis said, adding the boy offered to show his uncle how to do it the right way.