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Flying the U. S. Flag at half-staff is no grandstanding gesture

City and County Mayors’ Proposal, while noble, oversteps the authority of their office. The U. S. Flag Code delegates half-staff order authority to the president.

CHS Honor Guard Post Colors at Memorial Day Candelight Vigil
Clarksville High School Color Guard post The Colors during Memorial Day Candlelight Vigil

Recently our city and county mayors announced plans to fly the national flag at half-staff on a monthly basis. They proposed to do this in honor of our fallen soldiers. The gesture certainly strikes an undeniably appealing accord. It is, without a doubt, noble in its initiative.

It would unquestionably be a notable, emotional salute to our military personnel, especially in light of the fact that soldiers from Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division are facing daily peril in the Iraq and Afghanistan war theaters.

However, upon closer review, there is cause for reconsideration of this action. The flying of our nation’s flag is governed by specific and strict protocols that must be observed.

Navy Honor Guard stands at Turner McCullough Sr. interment
Navy Honor Detail stands at Turner McCullough Sr. interment, a WWII Navy veteran.

The U. S. Flag Code controls the care, display, handling and disposal of the Flag of the United States. It contains specific and particular procedures for the flying of the nation’s symbol and the controls over how and when it may be flown.

The U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 175 states:

  • (m) …On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff. 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, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law. 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, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff. The flag shall be flown at half-staff thirty days from the death of the President or a former President; ten days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress.

As used in this subsection –

  • (1) the term ‘half-staff’ means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff;
  • (2) the term ‘executive or military department’ means any agency listed under sections 101 and 102 of title 5; and
  • (3) the term ‘Member of Congress’ means a Senator, a Representative, a Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.

It should be hoped that our local leaders have contacted the White House, or short of that, our elected federal representatives, to request such presidential orders for this monthly flag salute. None would fault the honoring of our fallen wartime service members. Perhaps a letter writing campaign to Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Rep. John Tanner, Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Bob Corker could quickly move this initiative forward. Citizens should request their assistance in securing a presidential order authorizing our community to fly the flag at half-staff once a month for the duration of Middle East hostilities or the return of the 101st Airborne Division, whichever comes first. VFW and DAV chapters and other veterans organizations and groups could lead the way in contacting these legislators to ‘greenlight’ this enterprise. However without such presidential approval, the initiative should be held in abeyance. Respect for the laws of the land is the highest honor we, as a community, can show our fallen servicemembers. That, and exercising our right to vote

Upon review, the public must take note that this community also has an Eternal Flame Memorial, dedicated to those same fallen soldiers, located on Public Square. Sadly, the ‘Eternal Flame’ seems to spend most of its time unlit, and is only consistently burning during city-sponsored festivals. It has been noticeably unlit during the federal holidays of Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Veterans Day. It has even remained unlit on Armistice Day. This flag gesture may be viewed as a more economical action. Providing proper protocols and procedures are followed, the community must hope that this enterprise receives better follow-thru than our Pillar of Clouds, Pillar of Fire’s ‘Eternal Flame’ has encountered.

To Contact Tennessee Federal Legislators:

US Rep. Marsha Blackburn: Clarksville Office- 1850 Memorial Drive, 37043; Phone: 931-503-0391; Washington D.C. Office– 509 Cannon Bldg, Washington, D.C., 20515.

US Rep. John Tanner: Union City Office- P.O. Box 629, Union City, Tennessee 38281
Phone: (731) 885-7070, Fax: (731) 885-7094; Washington D.C. Office- 1226 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515-4208, Phone: (202) 225-4714, Fax: (202) 225-1765

US Senator Lamar Alexander: Nashville Office- 3322 West End Avenue, Suite 120; Nashville, Tennessee 37203; Phone: (615) 736-5129, ; Fax: (615) 269-4803; Washington, D.C.- 455 Dirksen Senate Office Building, District of Columbia 20510-4204; Phone: (202) 224-4944, Fax: (202) 228-3398

US Senator Bob Corker: Chattanooga Office- 10 West MLK Boulevard, 6th Floor, Chattanooga, Tennessee 37402, Phone: (423) 756-2757, Fax: (423) 756-5313; Washington, D.C.- 185 Dirksen Senate Office Building, District of Columbia 20510-4205; Phone: (202) 224-3344, Fax: (202) 228-0566



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