Thursday, February 2, 2012

Respect for the Flag

Placed in perspective, much of “flag etiquette” is intuitive. The flag is a symbol not only of our country, but also a tribute to all of those who gave their lives to secure it. From the deserts of Baghdad, to the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Flag Code suggests that we appreciate what we were given by those who gave or were willing to give all to defend it. If you really think about it, respect for the flag of the United States of America, as modest and insignificant as it may seem in view of the sacrifice of so many, is probably the only meaningful tribute to these men and women of which we are capable. It makes sense in that light that the protocols of the flag should therefore be approached with some level of awe.

The admonition of Section 8 of the Flag Code is:  “No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.  Regimental colors, State flags, and organizational or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.”

Question:  It is disrespect to the flag of the United States of America to dip it to any person or thing.  Why then is the flag used in covering a veteran’s casket, which use is associated with the end of one’s life, and hence seems to diminish its significance?

Answer:  By custom, this use does not diminish a flag’s significance, as much as it pays tribute to the individual who made, or was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice “to the republic for which it stands.”  The Flag Code defers to the custom of covering the casket of a veteran with the flag of the United States of America.  As well it should.  The flag is the emblem of our country, and all that it stands for, and to the extent one, notably, a veteran, chooses to value the liberty of his or her brethren over life itself, so to the country and all of its citizens ought pay tribute to that sacrifice. Section 7(n) of the Flag Code provides that “when a flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder.  The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.”  It is a fitting tribute and wholly reconcilable, to honor one who was willing to sacrifice all for the freedoms we enjoy, and yet to maintain appropriate deference to that which represents the freedoms he or she fought to maintain.  It is difficult to think of recognition that is more appropriately auspicious.