“I believe our flag is more than just cloth and ink. It is a universally recognized symbol that stands for liberty and freedom. It is the history of our nation, and it’s marked by the blood of those who die defending it.” John Thune, United States Senator, South Dakota, b.1961
I remember in fifth grade learning about the United States flag. As part of the lesson, high school students came to our school to teach us how to fold the flag. I was so excited and proud of what I learned, that evening I shared the lesson with my father. My father, an ex-army man, smiled at my excitement. After dinner he retrieved our United States flag and taught me the correct way to fold it. You see, I was taught at school that the stripes were on the outside when the flag was folded. My father explained that the stars are always on the outside. Together we folded and unfolded the United States flag until I was able to get my triangle creases crisp and straight.
Several years later while vacationing in Hawaii, my husband and I visited the USS Missouri Memorial. (A fabulous tour. If you have the chance to go, don’t pass it up.) While there we purchased an United States flag, hoisted it up, flew our flag over the USS Missouri for a few minutes, lowered the flag, and folded it. There were Navy personnel there to teach the tourist how to hoist the flag, “... the flag should be hoisted briskly ...” and lower the flag, “... lowered ceremoniously”, lessons I had already learned more than two decades earlier from my father. Then our Navy guide began to teach us the proper way to fold the flag. My husband respectfully explained that I didn’t need that lesson. Our surprised Navy guide watched as I folded our new United States flag, with crisp, straight triangles, union side out.
On June 14, 1777 the Continental Congress adopted the United States flag for our new Nation. The original flag had thirteen red and white alternating stripes and thirteen white stars on a blue field, one star representing each of the colonies. Over the years, stars have been added to the flag as new states have joined the Union. Today the United States flag has 50 stars, representing each of the 50 states, along with the original thirteen red and white stripes.
On June 14, 1923 the National Flag Code, regulations for displaying the flag, were adopted by the National Flag Conference. In attendance at this conference were 66 national organizations along with the Army and Navy. But it wasn’t until June 14, 1942 that Congress proposed a joint resolution to make the National Flag Code public law. A few minor changes were made, and on December 22, 1942 the National Flag Code was passed into law; US Code Title 36, Chapter 10, Sec.170 through 189. The Code includes regulations for displaying the flag, conduct during the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance, along with other rules and regulations.
The Flag Code has since been enhanced and broken into separate US Code Titles. US Code Title 36, Subtitle 1 defines National days of observance, ceremonies, and different patriotic organizations. The Flag Code can now be found as US Code Title 4, Chapter 1, Sections 1 through 10.
In US Code Title 4, Chapter 1, Sec.7, (m), regulations regarding the display of the flag at half-staff are outlined.
“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. ... 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, ... 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 or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, ... the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff, ... When the Governor of a State, ... issues a proclamation under the preceding sentence that the National flag be flown at half-staff in that State, ... because of the death of a member of the Armed Forces, the National flag flown at any Federal installation or facility in the area covered by that proclamation shall be flown at half-staff consistent with that proclamation. The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President or a former President; 10 days from the day of death of the Vice President, ...”
In 2007, H.R.692 - Army Specialist Joseph P. Micks Federal Flag Code Amendment Act of 2007, was passed amending Sec.7(m) of the Flag Code. This Amendment authorizes a Governor to order the National flag be flown at half-staff, honoring a member of the Armed Forces from that state, who has died in the line of duty.
As part of my fifth grade lesson, I was taught that a flag flow at half-staff meant the death of a President or other government official. Since 2007, it can also mean the death of a member of the Armed Forces. For the past few years, in Iowa, it seems our National flag has been flown at half-staff at least once a month. Each time the flag was at half-staff, I assumed that an Armed Forces member from Iowa had died in the line of duty, but I didn’t know who. It was happening so often that it was becoming commonplace, and for me, losing it’s significance. This I felt was disrespectful to the men and women it honored and to our National symbol.
So, I decided to do a little research.
In the past twelve months, the State of Iowa has lost ten members of the Armed Forces, one firefighter, and one peace officer, killed in the line of duty. In honor of these men, Iowa has flown our National flag at half-staff.
What I discovered in my research is a website dedicated to providing information, on a national and state level, regarding when to fly our National flag at half-staff and who it is honoring. You can receive this information directly on the site or through Twitter, Facebook, or email.
Since the birth of this Nation, hundreds of thousands of men and women have died for this country, to protect our rights and freedoms. If anyone deserves the honor, respect, and gratitude from flying the United States flag at half-staff, it is the men and women who protect us. I am humbled by their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families. I am always grateful. These men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect us. Out of respect, know who we are honoring when the flag is flown at half-staff.
Because they stand on a wall and say, “Nothing is going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.” A Few Good Men, Rob Reiner, 1992
Members of the Armed Forces, Firefighters, and Peace Officers Honored from Iowa (past twelve months)
Spc. Shaw A. Muhr; February 2011
Sgt. Eric Stein; April 2011
Spc. Donald Nichols; April 2011
Sgt. Brent Maher; April 2011
Staff Sgt. James Justice; May 2011
Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph J. Hamski; June 2011
Staff Sgt. Marvin J. Steinford; served in WWII, died June 2011
Army Captain Matthew Nielson; July 2011
Petty Officer Jon. T Tumilson; August 2011
Iowa State Trooper Mark Toney; September 2011
Volunteer Firefighter Michael Collins; September 2011
Marine Corporal Zachary C. Reiff; December 2011
Master Sgt. Travis Riddick; January 2012