Grand old Flag Customs

A Grand old flag custom suggests the U.S. flag be displayed only from sunrise to sunset unless it is illuminated. The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. It should not be allowed to touch the ground.


Old Glory has been our nation's symbol for more than two centuries. The country's colors fly everywhere, high above the Capitol dome and on front porches along suburban streets. Today is Flag Day. Here's some history of the Stars and Stripes and the basics for properly displaying the American flag.

SOURCES: Flag House Association, Smithsonian Institution,, World Book Encyclopedia,

Displaying the Stars and Stripes

Custom suggests the U.S. flag be displayed only from sunrise to sunset unless it is illuminated. The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. It should not be allowed to touch the ground.



The flag can be displayed vertically or horizontally; the stars should be at the top of the flag on the observer's left.


The flag should be placed to right of a speaker or staging area; other flags should be placed to the left.


When a flag is suspended across a street, it should hang vertically with the stars to the north or the east.


Flown at half-staff during national mourning, the flag should be hoisted to the top of the flagpole for a moment, then lowered to half-staff. The flag should be raised to the top of pole before lowering at end of the day.


The U.S. flag flies at the center and highest point of a group when flags of states, localities or societies are grouped for display.


When the U.S. flag is flown with other national flags, they should be of equal size and flown on separate staffs of the same height. International law forbids a nation's flag to be flown above any other nation's in peacetime. Test Your Knowledge

Try answering these questions about Old Glory.

** 1. Francis Scott Key wrote the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the back of an envelope. What is the source of the music for the song?

** 2. Which president made official provision for the arrangement of the stars?

** 3. Who was Elizabeth Griscom and what was her connection to the flag?

** 4. Who planted the first U.S. flag on the moon?

** 5. Is it ever appropriate to fly the flag upside down?

** 6. What is done with worn or outdated flags?

** 7. The American flag first flew over a foreign fort in what country?

** 8. A vexillologist is an expert in what?

** 9. "Shipwreck" Kelly (1885-1952) was famous for sitting for long periods of time. What did he have to do with flags?

** 10. The United States has one of the oldest national flags. Which countries have older flags?



A true patriot scores at least seven right. A score between four and seven means it's time to read up on Old Glory. If you scored below four, you might want to head back to civics class.

** 1. The music is from an English drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven."

** 2. In 1912, President William Taft ordered that there be six rows of eight stars, with each star pointing upward. Previously the arrangement of the stars had been left to the flagmaker's fancy.

** 3. Elizabeth Griscom, also known as Betsy, eloped with John Ross in November 1773. Betsy Ross, of course, sewed the first American flag.

** 4. Neil Armstrong, on July 20, 1969.

** 5. Yes, but only in an emergency to alert others you're in need of help.

** 6. Flags are used until they are worn out and then they are destroyed, preferably by burning.

** 7. Libya , over Fort Derne, on the shores of Tripoli.

** 8. The history of flags.

** 9. "Shipwreck" Kelly set many flagpole-sitting records. He sat for 49 days on one flagpole.

** 10. Austria, Denmark, Great Britain, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

The U.S. flag should be folded in a military fold and put away when not in use. The procedure for folding the flag:

** Bring the four corners together lengthwise.

** Fold again lengthwise, forming one long strip.

** Beginning at the striped end, bring corner to flat edge.

** Keep folding in triangle pattern up to the stars' end.

** When finished, the folded flag should resemble a triangle

I am the Flag
Howard Schnauber

I am the flag of the United States of America.
My name is Old Glory.
I fly atop the world's tallest buildings.
I stand watch in America's halls of justice.
I fly majestically over institutions of learning.
I stand guard with power in the world.
Look up ... and see me.

I stand for peace, honor, truth and justice.
I stand for freedom.
I am confident.
I am arrogant.
I am proud.

When I am flown with my fellow banners,
my head is a little higher,
my colors a little truer.

I bow to no one!
I am recognized all over the world.
I am worshipped -- I am saluted.
I am loved -- I am revered.
I am respected -- and I am feared.

I have fought in every battle of every war
for more then 200 years.
I was flown at Valley Forge,
Gettysburg, Shiloh and Appamatox.
I was there at San Juan Hill,
the trenches of France,
in the Argonne Forest,
Anzio, Rome, and the beaches of Normandy.
Guam, Okinawa, Korea and
KheSan, Saigon, Vietnam know me.
I was there.

I led my troops.
I was dirty, battleworn and tired,
but my soldiers cheered me
And I was proud.
I have been burned, torn and trampled
on the streets of countries I have helped set free.
It does not hurt, for I am invincible.

I have been soiled upon, burned, torn
and trampled on the streets of my country.
And when it's by those whom I've served in battle -- it hurts.
But I shall overcome -- for I am strong.

I have slipped the bonds of Earth
and stood watch over the uncharted frontiers of space
from my vantage point on the moon.
I have borne silent witness
to all of America's finest hours.
But my finest hours are yet to come.

When I am torn into strips and used as bandages
for my wounded comrades on the battlefield,
When I am flown at half-mast to honor my soldier,
Or when I lie in the trembling arms of a grieving parent
at the grave of their fallen son or daughter,
I am proud.

My name is 'Old Glory'!
Long may I wave
o'er the land of the free
and the home of the brave.

Please forward this message to all who still love and respect me, that I may continued to fly proudly for another two hundred years.


The Flag Goes By
Henry Holcomb Bennett

          Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,
A flash of color beneath the sky:
          Hats off!
The flag is passing by!

Blue and crimson and white it shines,
Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines.
          Hats off!
The colors before us fly;
But more than the flag is passing by.

Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great,
Fought to make and to save the State:
Weary marches and sinking ships;
Cheers of victory on dying lips;

Days of plenty and years of peace;
March of a strong land's swift increase;
Equal justice, right, and law,
Stately honor and reverend awe;

Sign of a nation, great and strong
Toward her people from foreign wrong:
Pride and glory and honor,--all
Live in the colours to stand or fall.

          Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums;
And loyal hearts are beating high:
  Hats off!
The Flag is passing by!

It is the Soldier
Father Dennis Edward O'Brien

It is the Soldier,
not the reporter, who has given us freedom of press.

It is the Soldier,
not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier,
not the campus organizer, who gives us freedom to demonstrate.

It is the Soldier
who salutes the flag,
who serves beneath the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.


Ragged Old Flag
(as sung by Johnny Cash)

I walked through a county courthouse square,
On a park bench an old man was sitting there.
I said, "Your old courthouse is kinda run down."
He said, "Naw, it'll do for our little town."
I said, "Your flagpole has leaned a little bit,
And that's a Ragged Old Flag you got hanging on it."

He said, "Have a seat", and I sat down.
"Is this the first time you've been to our little town?"
I said, "I think it is." He said, "I don't like to brag,
But we're kinda proud of that Ragged Old Flag.

"You see, we got a little hole in that flag there
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing 'Oh Say Can You See.'
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin' at its seams.

"And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag, but she waved on through.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville,
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on that Ragged Old Flag.

"On Flanders Field in World War I
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun.
She turned blood red in World War II.
She hung limp and low by the time it was through.
She was in Korea and Vietnam.
She went where she was sent by her Uncle Sam.

"She waved from our ships upon the briny foam,
And now they've about quit waving her back here at home.
In her own good land she's been abused--
She's been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused.

"And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land.
And she's getting threadbare and wearing thin,
But she's in good shape for the shape she's in.
'Cause she's been through the fire before,
And I believe she can take a whole lot more.

"So we raise her up every morning,
Take her down every night.
We don't let her touch the ground,
And we fold her up right.
On second thought I do like to brag,
'Cause I'm mighty proud of that Ragged Old Flag."


Barbara Frietchie
John Greenleaf Whittier

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,

The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple and peach tree fruited deep,

Fair as the garden of the Lord
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,

On that pleasant morn of early fall
When Lee marched over the mountain wall;

Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

Forty flags with their silver stars
Forty flag with their crimson bars,

Flapped in the morning wind; the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;

Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;

In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.

Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced; the old flag met his sight.

"Halt!" - the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
"Fire!" - out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.

Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.

"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country's flag," she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;

The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman's deed and word;

"Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet;

All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;

And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.

Barbara Frietchie's work is o'er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.

Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall's bier.

Over Barbara Frietchie's grave,
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;

And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!