Recent events have inspired a dramatic surge in the number of Baltimoreans displaying the American flag. Such events have not, unfortunately, inspired a parallel surge in flag etiquette. Like most folks, the Nose learned about proper care of the Stars and Stripes from our parents, our schools, and, mostly, the American Legion, the auxiliaries of which often sponsor grade-school essay contests wherein winners get savings bonds--just the sort of inspiration our third-grade selves once needed to commit the rules of flag care to memory for life.
But somewhere along the way those memories got fuzzy, and flag etiquette went the way of those measly savings bonds. Tom Davis, state adjutant for the American Legion, believes it's a benign lapse. He reckons "99.9 percent" of those incorrectly handling the flag don't realize they're erring, and "if reminded, they'll do it right." (Davis is going to remind his own membership of the correct protocols in the next edition of the Legion newsletter.) So, as a public service to you, we turn once again to the American Legion to jog memories, and to inspire readers to treat the red, white, and blue with a little more respect. Below, per the group's Web site (www.legion.org/americanism/flagfaqs.htm), are the official Old Glory dos and don'ts.
· Hang it. Don't stick it, pin it, drape it, or--for goodness sake--flip it. The flag "should be displayed vertically . . . and suspended so that its folds fall free as though the flag were staffed . . . with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street." (Ref: Flag Code 7[i].)
· We know it's painful, but tune in to Marty Bass' morning weather lowdowns and refrain from hanging the Stars and Stripes on rainy days. "The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather (nylon or other nonabsorbent material) flag is displayed." (Ref: Flag Code 6[c].)
· When your flag gets old and tattered, send it to the Great Flag Graveyard in the Sky. "The Flag Code suggests that, '[W]hen a flag has served its useful purpose, it should be destroyed, preferably by burning.' For individual citizens, this should be done discreetly so the act of destruction is not perceived as a protest or desecration." (Ref: Flag Code 8[k].)
· Spare your country's flag from Baltimore's grimy stoops and sidewalks. "The flag should not touch anything beneath it such as the ground . . . care should be exercised in the handling of the flag, to protect it from becoming soiled or damaged."
· And at day's end, give it a rest. "The Flag Code states it is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flag staffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day, but only if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness." (Ref: Flag Code 6[a].) So as to give proof through the night that your flag is still there.