Have you ever wondered why flags are flown at half-mast on some days? In case you don’t know, half-mast, which is often used interchangeably with half-staff, is when a flag is flown below the top of the pole.
The US, as well as several other countries in the world, usually lower their national flag to a half-mast position during the time of grief, remembrance or mourning. If you want to know more about half-masting the flag and when the national flag is half-masted in the US, then keep scrolling down.
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As said above, there can be several reasons why the flag is half-mast. For instance, a law in the US requires a flag to be flown at half-mast for 30 days after the death of a former or current president. In the case of the death of the Vice President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or retired chief justice, the flag should be half-masted for 10 days.
The President of the United States also has the power to issue an order to fly the US flag at half-staff for any period he decides at the time of a national tragedy. For instance, when Pope John Paul II died in 2005, the then US President, George W. Bush ordered the flags to be flown at half-staff till the interment. When Nelson Mandela, one of the most influential political personalities of his time, died in 2013, the US flags remained half-mast till sunset on December 9 on the directions of Barack Obama.
(Image Courtesy: The Christian Science Monitor)
As per the federal guidelines, some days are designated as special days of remembrance, and it is customary to keep the flags at half-mast on those days. May 15, which is the Peace Officers Memorial Day; September 11, observed as Patriot Day; and December 11, the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, are the ones when the US flag is flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset. Whereas, on the Memorial Day, the national flag is kept half-mast from sunrise to noon, at which point it is raised back to the top of the pole.
(Image courtesy: Collins Flags)
Other days when it is appropriate to lower the US flag to half-mast like the President’s Day, observed on the third Monday of February, the National Flag Day on June 14, and November 11, which is the Veteran’s Day, observed in honor of veterans of the US military. While it is not mandatory to half-mast the flag on these days, such can be done as a show of respect or honor.
Though it is tough to precisely say how the tradition of flying the flag at half-staff originated, the oldest reference which is commonly accepted dates back to 1612, when the sailors on the British Ship, Heart’s Ease, lowered their flag in honor of their captain, who had died during the journey to Canada. An invisible flag to death was considered to be flown above the Union Jack.
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(Featured Image Courtesy: History)