Today is a day of remembrance of all the fallen soldiers who sacrificed their lives for this country’s freedom. A symbol of that freedom is always reminded by looking at the American flag. It might not have meant much when I was younger other than a morning right-hand-over-heart pledge of allegiance. But serving in the military for six years, traveling to other countries and seeing the difference between America and other countries, I realized how fortunate we have it here. I remember one of the stressful but satisfying ceremonies to perform on the ship is raising and lower the flag. Most people probably will notice all the American flags at half staff (or half mast if you are on a ship) today. As a sailor, I always wondered what it meant. I knew the country would fly it at half mast on a holiday like today or a day like for the Pearl Harbor attack. Even when a worldwide disaster happens like the tsunami or even a national massacre such as Virgina Tech, we will fly our flag at half mast for respect for the lost. But what does it really mean? Lemme explain more and how to properly raise and lower a flag.
The process of raising and lowering a flag is quite easy but with everything in the military, it has to be precise and flawless. Normally done at eight in the morning to start the work day is when we raise the flag. When raising, you must rapidly pull it to the top of the mast or pole from the untuck folded triangle. Once its raised to the top, tie off the rope, take one step back and salute until the music or ending whistle is heard. Pretty easy I’d say. Just don’t be late for that eight o’clock whistle.
But when lowering a flag, its a bit different. Usually done at sunset, you must slowly, in a uniformed pace, lower the flag and NEVER let the flag touch the ground. And again, once you’ve got a hold of the flag, step back and salute until the music or ending whistle is heard. Its said that if you let the flag touch the ground at any time, you must burn it. Why? They say that if the flag touches anything beneath it like the ground or floor, it is no longer a fitting emblem for display. And then it should be destroyed in a dignified way like burning it. I will admit, when I was a young petty officer new to the ship, I let the flag touch the ground once. I always watched other people take down the flag and thought to myself, that’s easy. But when I was assigned to flag duty for the first time, we were flying the holiday flag which is super large and in charge. When I lowered it, it was like trying to hold an entire parachute without letting anything touch the floor. Of course I was reprimanded or in this case bitched out and belittled. I was assigned to flag duty for one month straight and after that incident I never let the flag come close to the ground ever again.
But what does a flag flown at half mast mean and how do you properly raise and lower it? When raising a flag, follow the same steps by pulling up to the top quickly. Once its reached the top, slowly at a uniformed pace lower the flag to half mast and tie off the rope. This is so to allow the invisible flag of death to fly at the top of the mast which signified death’s presence, power and prominence. And when lowering, you quickly pull the flag back up to the top, then lower it the same way you would normally. Seeing the American flag always hits my soft side as I get older. No matter what day it is, every time I see an American flag, I will salute it because it symbolizes the thousands of soldiers who served and sacrificed their lives for our gift of freedom. Happy Memorial Day everyone! Enjoy the bbqs and the freedom. They both taste good.