Proper flag etiquette is not just for members of the military. Everyone should know the basics of how to properly show respect to the symbol of our great nation, the American flag. Oftentimes many of us do not practice proper flag etiquette simply because we are not familiar with it. Here are some basic guidelines for civilians when you are in the United States:
When To Put Your Hand Over Your Heart
When the National Anthem, Reveille or Taps is played, put your hand over your heart and face the flag, being sure to remove your hat and hold it over your left shoulder so your right hand is over your heart. Keep your hand over your heart until the last note of the song has been played. Civilians who are not US citizens are not required to place their hand over their heart but should stand at attention while these songs are being played.
When the American Flag passes in front of you in a parade or ceremony, stand when the flag is six paces from you and face the flag. You may place your hand over your heart. Stay standing until the flag is six paces past you.
When reciting the Pledge of Allegiance place your hand over your heart.
Do not place your hand over your heart when individuals holding small flags pass, like spectators at a parade.
It is never appropriate to place your hand over your heart when holding anything in your right hand or your mouth (to include cigarettes, cigars & pipes).
Display Of The Flag
The flag is to be illuminated at all times. For this reason, most flags are displayed from sunrise to sunset. If you would like to display your flag at night, make sure it is properly illuminated with a light.
If you hang your flag vertically, the blue field must be in the upper left.
When displaying with other flags, the American flag is almost always on the right (the viewer’s left). In the rare cases the American flag is among many other flags, it can be placed in the middle, so long as it is the highest of the flags (for example, being displayed with the state flags).
If the weather is bad, do not display the flag unless it is an all-weather flag.
The flag should never touch anything beneath it such as the ground, water or the floor.
The flag should never be altered in any way – do not pin it into any position or deface it with writing or drawing.
The flag should never be used as clothing, drapery, bedding or home décor. Red, white and blue bunting is available if you would like patriotic decorations. Be sure to display it with the blue on top.
If you wear a flag pin on your lapel, it is to be worn on the left lapel so it is close to your heart.
Reveille and Retreat
When you are on a military installation Reveille (originating from the French word to “wake up”) will be played first thing in the morning as the flag is being raised and Retreat will be played and the of the duty day when the flag is being lowered. If outside during these times civilians, including children, should stand silently and face the flag.
If you are in your vehicle when it is time for Reveille or Retreat and are on a military installation, stop your car and turn off your music. If you are on an Army post, you are expected to get out of your vehicle (even if it is in the middle of the road), stand and face the flag. Once you are out of your vehicle you are expected to act as though you were outside during the ceremony. However, this varies depending on the branch of the military. If you are on a Navy, Air Force or Marine base, you do not need to get out of your vehicle, just stop it and turn off the music, sit quietly and listen while the Retreat bugle is played.
Here is the link to a funny video in which Robin Williams is interrupted in Kuwait when Retreat, then To The Colors was played.
Now that you know the basics of flag etiquette, you can feel comfortable showing respect to and displaying your flag, regardless of what anyone else around you is doing. Enjoy your holiday!