We’re used to seeing flags sitting high up on their flagpoles, and that’s how we generally associate them in our minds. But people can and do fly flags halfway up the pole, or staff, otherwise known as half-staff. Why do they do that?
Our blog explains what flying a flag at half-staff means, and when and where you may see half-staff flags. To find out more or to create your own flag, contact our friendly and helpful team at BestFlag today.
What is Half-Staff?
A flag at half-staff means it’s situated midway up the pole, as opposed to its usual position at the top. This position is also called half mast, which originated from flags on ships out at sea.
Why Are Flags Flown at Half-Staff?
Typically, flags are flown at half-staff (or half-mast) to signify mourning or remembrance. Whether you were aware of this already or not, many of us aren’t sure why this is the case.
The History of the Half-Staff Flag
The exact origins of the half-staff flag remain unclear, and so historians continue to debate the topic today. Many believe it came from the ship Heart’s Ease and its voyage from Britain to Canada in 1612. The ship’s captain, James Hall, was killed by an Inuit spear, which prompted the crew to lower the ship’s flag to half-mast. It’s believed they did this because tradition declared the invisible flag of Death needed to be flown at the same time, and so they needed to utilize more space on the staff for the invisible flag.
This tradition carried on through the seas, and eventually made its way to America. Upon George Washington’s death in 1779, the Navy department ordered all of its ships to lower their flags to half-mast to signify their mourning. From here, the tradition continued on land as well as at sea.
The half-staff flag remained an informal practice until President Dwight Eisenhower issued Proclamation 3044 in 1954. The Proclamation declared that the flag of the United States of America must be flown at half-staff upon the deaths of particular officials, including former officials.
When it’s time to lower the flag to be flown at half-staff, it is first run briskly to the top of the staff before being slowly lowered to its half-staff position.
Usage of the Half-Staff Flag
The official US Code states that the President of the United States can issue an order to fly national flags at half-staff during times of national mourning. The Code also includes an order for state officials such as local politicians, leaders, and public figures. This is why sometimes one state may have its flags at half-staff while others do not.
Despite this being a formal law, there is no penalty for breaking it. Also, state officials without the authority to lower the flag do so as needed, which also doesn’t carry a penalty. This is because most of the time it’s done with good intentions and/or a misunderstanding of flag protocol as opposed to being out of malice of any kind.
After the death of the President, the flag should fly at half-staff for 30 days at all federal buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout the United States. The rules differ for the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, or the speaker of the House of Representatives, where the flag must be flown at half-staff for 10 days.
On Memorial Day, our nation honors our battle heroes by flying the flag at half-staff from sunrise until noon. The flag is then raised to the top of the staff until sunset, where it returns to half-staff.
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