US Flag Etiquette

The American flag has a long history, and the members of our organization have spent nearly as long defending and honoring our nation’s most iconic symbol of freedom. Whether you’re looking for the historic details of how the U.S. flag came to be, or the rules and regulations that encompass her daily flight, we’re here to ensure you can find the information you need.

On Same Staff
U.S. flag at peak, above any other flag.

Grouped
U.S. flag goes to its own right. Flags of other nations are flown at same height.

Marching
U.S. flag to marchers right (observer’s left).

On Speaker’s Platform
When displayed with a speaker’s platform, it must be above and behind the speaker. If mounted on a staff it is on the speaker’s right.

Decoration
Never use the flag for decoration. Use bunting with the blue on top, then white, then red.

Salute
All persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the armed forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.

Over a Street
Union (stars) face north or east depending on the direction of the street.

Half Staff
On special days, the flag may be flown at half-staff. On Memorial Day it is flown at half-staff until noon and then raised.

Special Rules

  • Do not let the flag touch the ground.
  • Do not fly flag upside down unless there is an emergency.
  • Do not carry the flag flat, or carry things in it.
  • Do not use the flag as clothing.
  • Do not store the flag where it can get dirty.
  • Do not use it as a cover.
  • Do not fasten it or tie it back. Always allow it to fall free.
  • Do not draw on, or otherwise mark the flag.

Illumination Guidelines
Per Federal Flag Code, Section 2, paragraph (a), it is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.

The POW/MIA flag features a silhouette of a POW before a guard tower and barbed wire in white on a black field. “POW/MIA” appears above the silhouette and the words “You Are Not Forgotten” appear below in white on the black field. This black and white flag stands as a stark reminder of Americans still prisoner, missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia and is now accepted nationally and internationally as the symbol of vigilance and remembrance for all POW and MIA’s.

Order of Precedence in the Display of the POW/MIA Flag
All flags flying on the same pole with the U.S. flag will be subordinate to the U.S. flag. The question frequently arises about what flag (POW/MIA, state, organization, etc.) has precedence to be flown directly beneath the U.S. flag and above any other flag. There is no definitive answer or protocol established in writing or codified in law. It is VFW protocol, since the POW/MIA flag is considered a federal banner, that the POW/MIA flag has precedence over all other flags flying on the same pole beneath the U.S. flag. In a line of march, the POW/MIA flag is carried to the immediate left of the U.S. flag. The VFW views the POW/MIA issue as a matter of national importance first, thereby giving the POW/MIA flag a position of prominence.

For the full protocol for displaying the POW/MIA Flag, visit the National League of POW/MIA Families website.

  1. The flag should be folded in its customary manner.

    See:  HOW TO FOLD A U.S. FLAG

  2. It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure the complete burning of the flag.

  3. Place the flag on the fire.

  4. The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.

  5. After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished and the ashes buried.

  6. Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.

Please Note:  Please contact your local VFW Post if you’d like assistance or more information on proper flag disposal. 

Public Law 94-344, known as the Federal Flag Code, contains rules for handling and displaying the U.S. flag. While the federal code contains no penalties for misusing the flag, states have their own flag codes and may impose penalties. The language of the federal code makes clear that the flag is a living symbol.

In response to a Supreme Court decision that held that a state law prohibiting flag burning was unconstitutional, Congress enacted the Flag Protection Act in 1989. It provides that anyone who knowingly desecrates the flag may be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year. However, this law was challenged by the Supreme Court in a 1990 decision that the Flag Protection Act violates the First Amendment free speech protections. Access the U.S. Flag Code Guide.

The order of precedence when displaying military flags together is Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force and Coast Guard.

Folding the U.S. Flag
Flag Folding Ceremony at Arlington Cemetery