I have always felt that summer is, above all else, a patriotic season. In my mind, summer barbeques and pool parties are as purely American as “baseball and apple pie.” Within these coming months, Americans will honor Memorial Day, celebrate Independence Day, and remember the 70th Anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 1944) and the 151st Anniversary of Gettysburg (July 1 – 3, 1863).
I was recently stumped when my former [Buena High School] Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Monty McDaniel, asked me about the origins and proper American flag etiquette of Memorial Day. Before conducting research, I asked similar questions to my friends and Family. Few could give me answers. It is therefore necessary for many Americans to re-think how and why we respect the American flag on Memorial Day.
On Memorial Day, we remember all the patriots who have died in our nation’s service. While there are many regional stories to the origins of Memorial Day, Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, ordered that flowers were to be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868.
Throughout the following years, different states declared their own “Decoration Day” to remember the casualties of the Civil War. The meaning of “Decoration Day” changed during World War II to remember all service members who have fallen in our nation’s service. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which declared Memorial Day a national holiday on the last Monday in May. This legislation was first put into effect in 1971.
On Memorial Day, the American flag is flown at half-staff until noon. At noon, the American flag is raised to full-staff until sunset. Flying the American flag at half-staff is a symbol of mourning, and on Memorial Day, the half-staff American flag is evidence of the grief and remembrance throughout our nation. When the American flag is raised to full-staff from noon until sunset, it shows that our nation also honors all current and future veterans.
To properly raise a flag to half-staff, the flag must be raised to full-staff for a moment and then be ceremoniously lowered to half-staff. Before being removed from the flagpole, the flag must be raised again to full-staff and then lowered. It is always important to raise the American flag briskly and to lower the American flag ceremoniously.
(Editor’s note: Jesse Bustamante was a member of the Buena High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program for all four years of high school. He is currently finishing up his freshman year at Northern Arizona University.)