By Maj. DeVaughn Simper, Jackie Pfeiffer & Michael McFalls
Respect On Display, The Flag of the United States of America
50 stars, 13 stripes, 3 simple colors, on a fabric banner.This is the basic ingredients for the flag of the United States of America. Its odd but a simple collection of symbols has become such a powerful beacon of freedom, passion, and commitment to an idea.
The American Adventure
The adventure begins in 1775. Lieutenant General George Washington selected a flag to represent his troops in the fight for independence. On the morning of January 1st 1775, the first flag of the United Colonies was raised on prospect hill. It had 13 stripes, and the British Union Jack in the corner. This design was chosen to show that we did not forget where we came from. Which is the 1st lesson we as citizens need to understand. The United States of America is a country like no other. Our Constitution and our form Government, to this day, has set the standard of what freedom and a representative government should be.
In the first Continental Congress, on July 4th 1776, we declared our independence from the British Crown, and told the world that we will not go quietly into the night. We will stand and defend our right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. With this declaration that we are a new nation, Congress decided that we needed a flag to unite all of the colonies and show that we really are one free nation of independent states. On June 14th 1777, the decided that the flag should be 13 stripes alternating red and white, with a blue field with 13 white stars representing a new nation under heaven.
This description has many interpretations. The most famous is has the constellation of stars in a circle, while another has 6 pointed stars. As more states joined the Union, they added a star and a stripe for each new state to show their contributions to the growing country. When they reached 15, the Navy suggested that the designed be changed to show our origins, and to show our future. They decided on 13 stripes to pay respect to the sacrifices of the original 13, and add a new star for each state to show that they make a difference in the union. (Could you imagine what the flag would look like with 50 stripes? ) But no matter what design was used, the mighty Army and Navy had a banner to fight under, and that was really important to their success.
Have you ever played football? What about “Capture the Flag”, or even Chess? These games we play today are representative of the battle strategies of the 18th and 19th centuries. When you take part in a flag ceremony, you are a member of the color guard. The color guard was originally a 21 member company (usually boys ages 12-16) whose sole job was to keep the flag standing tall and proud on the front line. This was to show their army where the front line of the battle was. Part of this company was also drummers, fifers, and buglers who used the flags and Music to communicate to the troops. This important job of the guard is the reason our flag should be carried straight and tall, rather than on an angle or over your shoulder. They were to defend it on the front lines of battle. Battles at that time were much like the game of football, each side would line up along the battle field, and the first row of troops was called the front line. When the troops marched forward the flag was moved down the field to show where the troops gained position. The rules of war dictated that if the flag fell or were captured, the battle was over. The spear point on the top of most indoor flags, we see now as decoration, during the early years of our country, it was a functional weapon. When we charged in battle the flag could be furled and the spear pointed in the direction of a charge and was able to defend it’s self if absolutely required.
Until World War 1, the flag was almost always used only for government or military functions. It was rather expensive to purchase a flag. Especially since they were all hand made, and each star was embroidered which took up to 3 months to make.
When the United States entered world war 1, it was the first time the US was seen as a major player on the world stage. It was also the first time the draft was used nation wide. So many people wanted to show their support for their country, they purchased flags and displayed them where ever they could. After the war the demand for flags slowed down and as the soldiers returned home they formed groups to share stories and teach their communities about the military and how to be a good citizen. American Pride and patriotism again hit the nation like a tidal wave.
But there was a problem, even though there was a great desire to show our pride, no one knew what the “right” way to do it was. Until then the only instructions on how, where, or when the flag was to be displayed, were in the military. But those rules didn’t apply to civilians. Did they?
In 1923 these patriotic organizations met and wrote the Flag Code that was adopted by congress and it became a law. It was so big that it became 3 big sections called titles in the US Code book , Title 4, Title 18, and Title 36. These rules still apply to all of us.
Let’s take a look at how Cub scouts should respect the flag…
Remember, when you are taking part in a ceremony, you are a member of the Color Guard. The elite group of young men who were trusted to protect the flag. Today this elite guard is represented by at least 4-5 boys: One boy for each flag carried plus 2 additional boys as a guard and the commander or “caller”
- US Flag
- State Flag
- City Flag
- Pack Flag
- Den Flag
(when they line up, they should be in the order listed above from the speakers right to left)
Cub Scouts who carry the flag(s)—one flag per boy. Hold the staff at a slight angle in front of the body. The bearer of the United States flag marches at the front right of the column (front only if marching in single file). A flag bearer stands silent and at attention throughout the ceremony and does not say the Pledge of Allegiance nor sing the national anthem.
These Cub Scouts guard the honor of the flag and watch to see that the flag does not touch the ground. They stand behind the flag bearer, or to each side if in a line of more than one flag. Two per flag is traditional, but any number may be used. They stand silent and at attention throughout the ceremony and do not say the Pledge of Allegiance nor sing the national anthem. Color guard commander: This designated Cub Scout “calls out” the parts of the ceremony. He stands in front and to one side of audience. Flag placement: The United States flag is placed to the speaker’s right when on the stage (or to the audience’s left). The additional flags (if used) are placed on the opposite side.
There are many many ways to conduct a ceremony and each pack is encouraged to adopt their own traditions. Here is One method that can be used:
The United States flag is placed to the speaker’s right when on the stage (or to the audience’s left).
The second flag (if used) is placed on the opposite side.
SUGGESTED COLOR GUARD COMMANDER SCRIPT — OPENING CEREMONY
- Color guard, attention! Will the audience please rise?
- Hand salute! (Cub Scout salute if in uniform, hand on heart if not in uniform.)
NOTE: the US FLAG should remain vertical or perpendicular to the ground so that the floor and the flag pole make a 90 degree angle. All other flags if used are tipped outward away from the flag bearer on a 45 degree angle as a salute to the US Flag.
- Color guard, advance! (Wait for color guard to reach the front and face the audience.)
- Everyone, please join me in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. (Recite the pledge together.) (This would also be an appropriate time to play the national anthem)
- Two! (This is the signal that everyone may put their hands down and all flags are returned to their upright position
- Cub Scout sign! (All raise their right hands, making the Cub Scout sign.)
- Cub Scouts, please join me in saying the Scout Oath:
“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God
and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help
other people at all times; to keep myself physically
strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
- Color guard, post the colors! Color guard, dismissed.
The audience may be seated.
COLOR GUARD COMMANDER SCRIPT — CLOSING CEREMONY
- Will the audience please rise?
- Color guard, advance.
- Color guard, retrieve the colors.*
- Audience, salute. (Wait until flags leave the arena.)
- Note that the word is “retrieve,” not “retire.”
Other items to consider
- It is important to remember that the BSA is a CIVILIAN organization and is not bound by the same regulations and the US Department of Defense or Homeland Security. However, you can use their manuals for reference. The BSA and all civilians are subject the Flag Code (USC Title 4 Chapter 1 § 1-10 amended 12AUG1998).
- KEEP IT SIMPLE- it’s a solemn moment -not a Broadway Production
- There is not a legally mandated format.
- Boys in the Color Guard should be in the same, complete uniform (with shirts tucked in)
- The Flags should be in good repair.
- The US Flag should be carried at 90 degrees/Perpendicular to the floor. The flag “dips to no one”
- There should be at least 2 more boys than flags in the team.
- Plan ahead and PRACTICE
The type of flag you use in your Den or Pack is dependent on the needs of your group. In your Den Meetings, any size flag you have access to will suffice. However, the “Classroom Flag” (2ft x 3ft) is usually the most effective. In your Packs, generally a standard 3×5 flag is used. This is then mounted on a pole which is generally 7ft in length and 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter with a decorative finial (top ornament). Depending on your units budget this can either be an elaborate Oak Pole with brass fittings and decorative fringe, or a PVC pipe with a simple flag purchased at the grocery store with a simple gold rubber ball at the top. The Important thing to keep in mind is that your US flag should never be smaller than your Unit Flag. (If your Unit flag is 3×5 then the US flag should be 3×5 or larger)
Accessories: Harnesses for the flag carriers (one per flag), Stands for each flag, appropriate uniform accoutrements.
The Flag Code
Now that we have the ceremonial part down, lets take a look at how to care for our nations flag. The Flag Code lists rules that we all should learn on how to properly care for our flag. It is important that we know what is considered a flag. It may sound silly but you would be surprised how many people get this confused.
Anything when viewed by the average person, that would be instantly recognized as the image of a flag, technically falls under the rules of the flag code. Whether it’s a 3×5 flag or a printed paper plate, the image of the flag is what represents our country, this also includes anything the flag is attached to. Think about that for a moment. T-shirts, Posters, Napkins, your uniform?
So the Rules.
- No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped (tipped outward from the flag bearer) as a mark of honor.
- The flag should never be displayed with the union (stars) down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
- The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
- The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
- The flag should never be used as clothing, blankets or curtains
- The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
- The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
- The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature. (Don’t change the design of the flag)
- The flag should never be used as a bag.
- The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkin or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown. ( Yes I have many Old Navy Flag t-shirts too)
- No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
- The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
LEADERS: That last rule is an interesting one. There are many ways to “decommission” a flag. This should be done in a simple dignified manner that is appropriate for the situation. Each unit should develop their own traditions that would have the most meaning for your pack.
So with all that knowledge of how to take care of and display the flag, When should we display it? In my honest opinion, Always. (if you choose to fly the flag 24 x 7, it should have a light on it. This tradition comes from the battle of Fort McHenry, so that all may see that our flag is still there)
The President and the Governors of each state and territory have given us a list of dates of when flying the flag is really important. Some of them are:
- New Year’s Day
- Statehood Day (JAN 4, UTAH)
- Inauguration Day
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- Presidents Day
- Easter Sunday
- Patriots Day
- National Day of Prayer
- Mother’s Day
- Armed Forces Day
- Memorial Day (half-staff until noon)
- Flag Day
- Father’s Day
- Independence Day
- Pioneer Day (UTAH)
- Labor Day
- Air Force Day
- Constitution Day
- Columbus Day
- Navy Day
- Veterans Day
- Thanksgiving Day
- Christmas Day
- Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
- Election days.
How do we take care of the flag when it is not displayed?
Folding the Flag
If the flag is attached to a flag pole, carefully roll the flag around the pole and secure it with a string (or as they did in the early days, use the gold rope with fringe to secure it, that’s what it was originally designed to do.)
If the flag displayed on an outdoor flag pole, it should be lowered gently, then folded and placed in a safe area where it won’t be soiled or damaged.
Folding the flag is a time honored tradition that has a history all on its own. Many organizations have adopted different meanings for the folds. To fold the flag simply,
- Fold the flag in half lengthwise.
- Fold in half lengthwise again, being careful that the blue field is on the outside.
- As one person holds the flag by the blue field, another makes a triangular fold in the opposite end (all stripes) Fold the lower left corner toward the opposite edge of the flag to form a triangle. The right side of the triangle should line up with the right side of the vertical strip. The top edge of the triangle should be parallel to the top edge — the width — of the paper. This will essentially create a right triangle, with the right angle of the triangle on its top right side.
- Flip the triangle over its top side. This will create another, thicker triangle.
- Continue folding triangles up the paper until you’ve reached the top
- Tuck the loose edge of the flag into the pocket formed by the folds so that only the blue field and white stars are visible.
IF done correctly, there should be no red or white strips showing, (or bleeding as it is often called) and that there are at least 4 complete stars on the outside of the flag.
The 13 Folds
One version of the meaning of each fold
The 1st fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
The 2nd fold is a symbol of our belief in eternal life.
The 3rd fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veterans departing our ranks who gave a portion of their lives for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.
The 4th fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in time of war for His divine guidance.
The 5th fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decaur, “Our Country”, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong.
The 6th fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that We pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
The 7th fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all her enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
The 8th fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day.
The 9th fold is a tribute to womanhood, and Mothers. For it has been through their faith, their love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great has been molded.
The 10th fold is a tribute to the father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for defense of our country since they were first born.
The 11th fold represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies in the Hebrews eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The 12th fold represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in the Christians eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.
The 13th fold, or when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding us of our nations motto, “In God We Trust.”
After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, Ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington, and the Sailors and Marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones, who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for us the rights, privileges and freedoms we enjoy today.
The constellation on the outside represents 2 fathers: 1. God, our creator. 2. The Father of our country, President George Washington, Lieutenant General, Continental Army. Which is represented by 3 Stars on the shoulder of the uniform.
Ways to display the flag.
When we display the flag at home, we should think about where and how we display the flag.
Today, it is common to use a 7 foot PVC pipe with a 3×5 flag. This flag should be perpendicular to the ground or otherwise straight up and down. If you purchase kits that can be mounted to your home, It should be on the front of your house, near the door on its own right. (to the left of the door as you face the house)- This is a tradition that is deeply rooted in the Navy, the flag is flown from the Stern Ensign Staff when at sea, with is a 45 degree angle and represents the home port of the ship.
There are times in our nations history where we have suffered a great loss. The death of a president, or other elected official, a soldier or a family member. The same pride and patriotism that drives our need to display our flag, also shows that we, as a nation care about one another and mourn the loss of great leader as a nation.
There are 2 ways we can do this.
The first, Flying the flag at half mast, or half staff, is used when the flag pole is at least 15 feet in height. The flag is raised to the peak of the pole, then lowered slowly to the half way point. The mid point of the flag, where the blue field meets the 8th stripe (white), should straddle the midpoint of the flag pole.
If the flag is fixed to the pole or the pole is too short to lower to half staff, a 2 inch wide ribbon (length is the same as the pole) can be attached to the flag pole and draped in front of the flag.
Recently there has been talk on social media about maybe changing the national anthem to something more upbeat, and modern. Something like Bruce Springstings “Born in the USA” or Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA”, Some would like to see it changed to America the Beautiful or My Country Tis of Thee.
The story of the Star Spangled Banner is actually one of the most heroic moments in our flags history. And when we sing it, we only sing the 1st part of the story. It also ends in a question mark, and we are usually too eager to start the baseball game, or football game to wait for the answer. Oh, and to put the myth to rest the last line of the national anthem is not “Play Ball” or “Gentlemen Start Your Engines”.
The Adventure that is the national anthem starts in 1812. During America’s Second war for independence, or more popularly known as the war of 1812, The French and British were at war. France, who had played a HUGE part in our victory just a few years earlier, asked for our help in fighting this new war with Great Britain. Also, the British Navy often kidnapped American Sailors and forced them to serve on American ships. So we decided to defend ourselves and our friends.
The British didn’t like this idea and decided to teach us a lesson. They invaded and we lost many battles on our own turf. Including the destruction of Washington D.C. and the White House. Forcing President James Maddison to flee to New York. His wife Dolly single handedly saved many of the portraits that were hung in the White House and Also fled to New York. Just hours before the British Army burned it to the ground.
This was a major defeat to the US and the British set their eyes on Baltimore Maryland. On the coast was Fort McHenry, and floating in the Harbor was the entire Royal Navy. Francis Scot Key was a Lawyer and made arrangements to negotiate the release of his friend from a prison ship in the harbor. While onboard he overheard the Navy’s plans to attack the fort and invade Baltimore. He was caught and they did not allow him to leave the ship where he was forced to watch the battle. Looking over the harbor he could see the walls or ramparts of the fort and flying high above the ramparts was the enormous 15 star and 15 stripe flag. (The commander of the base ordered it to be 33 feet hight and 42 feet long. Mrs. Pickersgill had to rent a warehouse to sew the flag. He wanted it big enough that the Navy could see it from the port of London)
At sunset, the HMS Surprise (yes, the surprise attack was started by the HMS Surprise) Opened fire, with the other ships of the fleet joining in. As night began to fall the only light that was visible was the explosions and rocket trails as they flew over the harbor. Remember the rules of war, if the flag is captured, the battle is lost.
Francis knew that the only way to tell how the battle was going was to watch for the flag over the ramparts. The battle inspired him to write the poem that became our national anthem. He is a lawyer, so I have included a translation of the verses.
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
The answer was YES! It was. Francis went on to describe the battle in detail. But when he got to the 4th verse, He gave us specific instructions on how to KEEP us the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave
The rich history behind the flag of the United States is long and adventurous. We have been charged with protecting it and ensuring that the adventure continues for future generations.
President Ronald Raegan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Are you up to the challenge?