- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

A spirited debate is brewing over the American flag around the horseshoe-shaped bar at the Cissel Saxon American Legion Post 41 in Silver Spring.
Specifically, how should the flag be cared for and displayed at home? Do ordinary Americans know the protocol anymore? If they don't, should anyone care?
"It's the ultimate symbol of America," says Bob Hamilton, the post's second vice commander. "People should take care of it at home."
"I think people are willing to do the right thing when it comes to the flag, and they want to know what that is," says Warren McKay, the post's adjutant.
Lou Gaeta, the post's sergeant-at-arms, says simply, "I don't criticize people over how they fly the flag if they don't know. My view is, if they're flying it, that's fine."
However, there are rules and regulations for homeowners who want to fly the flag the right way. Organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the American Legion are happy to share them.

The first picture of America's resiliency and resolve after the September 11 terrorist bombings involved the flag. The indelible image of New York firefighters raising Old Glory over the World Trade Center rubble burned itself into the country's collective consciousness, and within the week, flags began sprouting everywhere. Cars, houses, businesses and T-shirts all bore the flag proudly.
Along with the newfound patriotism came questions. How should the flag be displayed? What are the do's and don'ts of flag etiquette? When should a flag be destroyed, and how?
The Boy Scouts of America and the American Legion both began to receive numerous phone calls in the months after September 11, all of them pertaining to flag etiquette. The Boy Scouts received 16,000 hits on their Web site, www.scouting.org, in the 15 days after September 11 and 18,000 hits in October, according to Renee Fairrer, a Boy Scouts spokeswoman. Those numbers were almost double the usual average for those months.
"There was a real sense of patriotism then that was good to see," she says.
The American Legion's national headquarters in Indianapolis also was hit by a blizzard of phone calls in September, according to Mike Buss, assistant director in the Legion's Americanism division.
"During times of trial and tribulation, what is the rallying point for people in all this? It's the flag," Mr. Buss says. "I had a gentleman call after 9/11, and he said he could remember World War II as a teen, and he had never seen the amount of patriotism displayed after 9/11, compared to World War II. The rallying point is the flag."
However, Mr. Buss admits that the general public probably isn't as familiar with the rules for displaying the flag as it might have been in the 1940s. He says the American Legion gets constant requests from schoolteachers and school districts for educational material about flag etiquette.
"After 9/11, there was a resurgence in that sort of thing," he says. "Everyone wanted to fly the flag, and the focus was back on the proper way to do it."
Mr. Buss says many Americans don't know that just about all the "do's and don'ts" of flag etiquette can be found in the U.S. Flag Code. In 1923, the National Flag Conference, made up of members of the Army and Navy and more than 60 other national groups, codified proper flag-handling procedure based on their own individual rules. In 1942, Congress adopted the National Flag Conference's regulations into the U.S. Code. The Flag Code can be found online at the American Legion's Web site, www.legion.org, which also posts answers to frequently asked questions about proper flag display.
Mr. Buss says one of the most common questions he gets is whether homeowners can fly the flag at night and how they should do it. According to the Flag Code, "The flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness." The American Legion defines proper illumination as a single source of light that clearly shows the flag. A porch light or streetlight will do, Mr. Buss says, although many homeowners, including Mr. Hamilton of the Cissel Saxon American Legion post, use a searchlight to beam on the flag at night.
Mr. Hamilton has a trailer at Fenwick Island, Del., and he flies the flag constantly when he's there, including at night and you can be sure he illuminates it.
"The only time I take it down is during heavy rain," he says.
The Flag Code covers that, too, stipulating that flags should not be flown during bad weather, "except when an all-weather flag is displayed." Fortunately, Mr. Buss says, most flags sold today, of nylon or composite materials, are all-weather.
Paul Taylor of Bethesda has flown a flag outside his house continuously since September 11. As a Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 8 in Bethesda, he knows everything about flag etiquette, but he says many of his younger Scouts don't know much about it.
"Handling the flag has always been a part of being a Scout," Mr. Taylor says, "but boys who come into Boy Scouts know little or nothing about the flag at all. I don't know when it all changed. When I was a boy, we would say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, and I went to a public school. Now boys come in [to the Scouts], and they don't know how to handle the flag, and they can't whip [the Pledge] off without practicing."
Mr. Taylor says his troop has a color guard of older Scouts present the colors at every meeting so younger Scouts see proper flag handling.
"They may not know the details of how to handle the flag, but they know enough not to drag it in the dirt or hang it upside down," Mr. Taylor says.


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