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The Iwo Jima Flag

Raising the Iwo Jima Flag was probably the most historic US flag photo ever. Joe Rosenthal took the most famous picture of the war photograph on February 23rd, 1945. It captured 5 US Marines and US Navy Corpsman raising a giant 48 star U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of for Iwo Jima, one of the decisive battles of World War II.

Joe Rosenthal was an Associated Press photographer. The photograph was carried by thousands of publications. Later, it became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography within the same year as its publication. It’s also regarded as the most important and recognizable US picture of the war and is probably the foremost reproduced photograph of all time.

Iwo Jima Flag raising statue from theThe U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia

Iwo Jima Flag raising statue from the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia

The image served as a model for Marine Felix De Weldon to sculpt the 1954 United States Marines War Memorial.  The memorial sits next to Arlington National Cemetery.

The famous photograph was actually the raising of the second Iwo Jima Flag. A smaller flag had earlier been raised and photographed by SSgt. Louis R. Lowery, a photographer with Leatherneck magazine. The first flag wasn’t easily visible and a replacement was sent for. The legend is that the Secretary of the Navy wanted the flag but the local commander thought it should stay with the battalion. He sent his assistant operations officer to the shore for a replacement. As an afterthought, he shouted “make it a bigger one”.

The bigger Iwo Jima Flag turned out to be 96-by-56 inches (that’s 8 feet long by 4 feet 8 inches high!) and took several soldiers to raise.

The Iwo Jima Flag was eventually damaged by the winds at the top of the mountain and replaced. Both the first and second Iwo Jima Flags are now on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico Virginia.

Veteran Burial Flag

The VA will provide a Veteran Burial Flag at no cost to honor the memory of any veteran who honorably served.  It’s traditional to drape the flag over the casket or have it accompanying the urn.  The flag is generally given to the next of kin as a keepsake after the funeral service.

Veteran Burial Flag etiquette calls for flag display in alignment with the position of the body. For a closed casket, the “Union” (field of blue stars) rests at the head and over the left shoulder of the body of the deceased.  When the casket is displayed half-open, the Veteran Burial Flag is folded into thirds, the outer fold showing the Union next to the open portion of the casket on the deceased veteran’s left. When the casket is displayed in a fully opened position, the burial flag is correctly folded into a triangle with only the stars and blue of the Union showing. The folded burial flag is then placed in the center of the top portion of the casket cap (lid) just above the left shoulder of the deceased.

Folded Veteran Burial Flag

Folded Veteran Burial Flag

The funeral director usually makes the arrangements for the flag.  Alternately, a flag can be requested with VA Form 27-2008, Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes or from the Post Office.  Veteran burial flags are automatically provided when burial is in a national, State or military post cemetery.

Replacement Veteran Burial Flag

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) issues almost a half million Veteran Burial Flags each year, but only one flag is issued for each Veteran’s funeral.  Replacements or extra flags aren’t provided, but some veteran’s groups may be able to provide another flag at no cost.

Veterans Burial Flags are also known as Memorial Flags, Casket Flags, or American interment Flags.  They’re made of cotton and 5’x9′.6.  Cotton flags are for indoor use or display only.  They’re not designed for long term display outdoors.
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Flag Day

History records the first Flag Day celebration as being in the spring of 1861.  Hartford resident George Morris is commonly credited as initially coming up with the idea for Flag Day not long before the break out of the Civil War. Hartford was in the heart of pro-Union New England and many were upset with the South’s disregard for the official flag.  Morris brought his idea to Hartford Courant Editor Charles Dudley Warner, who published an editorial in the newspaper on June 14, 1861. The Courant Editorial led to Connecticut’s  General Assembly voting to make Connecticut the first state to recognize June 14th as Flag Day.

Poster commemorating the 140th Flag Day on 15 February 1917

Poster commemorating the 140th Flag Day on 15 February 1917

“It has been suggested that the day be hereafter celebrated in a quiet way by a general display of flags, etc.,” the editorial said. “We like the suggestion, and think that such an observation of the day would increase our love for and our loyalty to the Stars and Stripes. … So let every flag be hoisted and every window show.”

The idea of a Flag Day caught on slowly.  William T. Kerr in Pennsylvania founded the American Flag Day Association of Western Pennsylvania in 1888, and became the national chairman one year later. He attended President Harry S. Truman’s 1949 signing of the Act of Congress that formally established the observance.

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed  June 14 as Flag Day in 1916, but it wasn’t until August 1949 that National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress. The measure was signed into law by President Harry Truman with William T. Kerr in attendance.

Flag Day Holiday Status:

Although Flag Day is not celebrated as a Federal holiday, it’s a day for Americans to honor the history and heritage. It’s one of  the “extra special” flag flying days in the Flag Code. More on flag flying days.

Flag Flown Over the Capitol

The Flag Flown Over the Capitol program lets you order flags that have flown over the Capitol Building.  Contact your Congressman or Senator to place an order, most have order form on their web page.  Flags are available in a variety of sizes and materials.  Order cotton for indoor flags, nylon for flags that will be outdoors.

Flag flown over the capital

Flag flown over the capital

Costs are reasonable and will vary by the type.  There’s also a small charge, currently less than $5 but scheduled to go up, for flying the flag, the certificate, and postage.

Your order for a flag flown over the capital goes to the Architect of the Capitol for scheduling.  The Architect’s office receives hundreds of thousands of requests a year, so allow plenty of time, at least 2 to 4 weeks in advance.   You can ask that your flag be flown in honor of a specified person or occasion, and  that your flag be flown on a certain date such as a birthday or anniversary.

Your flag flown over the capital will be mailed to you 4 to 6 weeks later, along with a certificate from The Architect Of The Capitol certifying the date that your flag was flown.  The certificate will also show who it was flown for and include any special people or events that it was flown to honor.

No actual records exist for the earliest date the flag was flown over the Capitol but it can be assumed that there were flags flying somewhere over the building since it’s first use. Early inscriptions and lithographs in the office of the Architect of the Capitol show flags flying on either side of the original low dome above the passages connecting the areas now referred to as Statuary Hall and the Old Senate Chamber.  The big flags over the East and West entrances are 8 feet by 12 feet and have been flying 24 hours a day since World War I.

The Capitol Flag Flown Over the Capitol program began in 1937 when a Member of Congress requested a flag that had flown over the Capitol.  Requests soon outgrew the number of flags that were in regular use, and special flagpoles were set up to fly smaller flags that are better suited for home use.

When to Salute the Flag in a Parade

The Flag Code isn’t concise about when to salute the flag in a parade.  The wording is:

Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag

During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

USMC Color Guard in the Rose Bowl Parade

USMC Color Guard in the Rose Bowl Parade

So what do you do?  Salute every flag in a parade?  Salute the big ones, salute the ones attached to fire engines, salute the little Popsicle stick flags that the kids on the junior 4-H float are waving, or just stand and salute for the whole parade?

It may just be that the Flag Code wording is is a hold-over from older times when there weren’t as many flags being waved, or it may be that the code was intentionally left vague.  Here’s a couple of the more popular ideas:

One idea, and the one that I follow, is to salute the flag in a parade when it is being presented.  That is, when the flag is the focus or highlight of the group.  All should certainly stand to salute the flag in a parade when it’s first carried, usually by a color guard, and any time that a flag is carried in a formal way.  This includes any time that the flag precedes a marching band, military or government organization, or civil organization.

An interesting interpretation of this is that, as some say, we should salute the colors.  Specifically, the formal flags with a gold fringe.  There isn’t any part of the formal code that supports this though.  The fringe is just an addition and does not carry any special significance.

And some say that we should still salute every flag, whatever the size or way that it is carried.  There’s nothing wrong with saluting every flag, but many feel that it lessens the sincerity, reducing the salute to a mechanical action.

Whichever convention you choose, show your patriotism and set an example for others when the flag passes.  There are too many that ignore the flag and sit through the whole parade.  It’s acceptable for those who can’t stand, but disrespectful and missing the whole idea of most parades.

Proper way to salute the flag in a parade

Face the flag and stand at attention when you salute the flag.  Men should remove their hat, it’s not required for women.  Those in uniform should give a military salute.  It’s optional for veterans and out of uniform military.  All others should place their right hand over their heart.

Flag Flying Days

Every day is a flag flying day for government and military offices.  As a private private individual, you are encouraged to fly the flag every day, but there are a few special flag flying days where an extra effort to fly the flag is encouraged.

Here are the special flag flying days:

  • New Year’s Day, January 1
  • Inauguration Day, January 20
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, third Monday in January
  • Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
  • Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
  • Easter Sunday
  • Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
  • Peace Officers Memorial Day (half-staff), May 15
  • Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
  • Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
  • Flag Day, June 14
  • Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
  • Independence Day, July 4
  • National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, July 27
  • Labor Day, first Monday in September
  • Patriot Day (half-staff), September 11
  • Constitution Day, September 17
  • Gold Star Mothers Day, last Sunday in September
  • Firefighters Memorial Day (half-staff), Sunday before or on October 9th
  • Columbus Day, second Monday in October
  • Navy Day, October 27
  • Election Day, first Tuesday in November
  • Veterans Day, November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (half-staff), December 7
  • Christmas Day, December 25
  • State Birthdays
  • Other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
Flag flying days flagpole on a house.

Flag flying days flagpole on a house.

More flag flying days info:

Outdoor flag flying days and hours are from sunrise to sundown.  Your flag shouldn’t be left up at night unless it’s lit according to the Flag Code.  Make sure that your flag is an all weather flag as some types of materials don’t stand up to the weather well.  Honor the flag by bringing it indoors, even on special flag flying days, when the weather is bad as it is considered disrespectful to subject the flag to damage.

Fly your flag on a flagpole if at all possible.  Your flagpole can be either free standing or mounted on a building.  It’s not proper to display the flag draped over anything, with the exception of a casket at a funeral. It should always be aloft and free, never touching anything beneath it.  It goes without saying that the flag should be the object of attention and shouldn’t be part of any advertising or display, and there shouldn’t be anything attached or pinned to it.

If it’s necessary to mount a flag flat, like on a wall, make sure that the union is uppermost and to the flag’s own right (to the observer’s left).  If you show a flag in a window, the union should be on the left as viewed from the outside. An easy memory tool is having the union “on the flag’s own right side”.




15 Star and Stripe Flag

The original thirteen stars and stripe flag was soon outdated as Kentucky and Vermont were added to the union in 1791 and 1792.  Two new states meant two new stars and stripes were needed and the 15 Star and Stripe Flag was created.

15 Star and Stripe Flag

15 Star and Stripe Flag

The 15 Star and Stripe Flag flew over a lot of history.  It was the design that flew over Fort McHenry to inspire Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner. In 1805, the 15 Star and Stripe Flag flew over a military installation in the Old World for the first time when American Marine and Navy troops raised it over a conquered pirate stronghold in Tripoli.

Later, the 15 Star and Stripe Flag was our official banner in the war of 1812.  It flew over the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813 when our Navy defeated the Royal British Navy in one of the biggest naval battles of the war.  And it was flown by General Andrew Jackson during his victory at The Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.  It was the victory that ended the War of 1812 .

Star Spangled Banner 15 Star and Stripe Flag

The famous 15 Star and Strip Flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner has been restored and is on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  The special display is designed to protect the flag, yet allow visitors a close look.

Adding More Stars

The early 1800s saw a lot of new states added to the union, and Capt. Samuel C. Reid proposed to Congress that the stripes be returned to 13 representing the thirteen original colonies, and that a star be added for each new State. In 1818, President Monroe signed a bill creating a flag with 13 stripes and 20 stars with the provision that, as new states were added, a star is added to the union of the flag on the fourth of July following its date of admission.

Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in September of 1892 by Francis Bellamy for “The Youth’s Companion” magazine in Boston. Copies were printed on leaflets and sent to schools throughout the United States.  It’s first widespread use was on Oct. 12, 1892, when as many as 12 million school children recited it to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America.

The Youth’s Companion was an American children’s magazine published in Boston.  The idea of a Columbus Day celebration was a commercial promotion, designed to sell magazines and flags.  It was highly successful with both.  Magazine sales soared and it was reported to promote the sale of 25,000 school flags in the year following.

Children reciting The Pledge of Allegiance

Children reciting The Pledge of Allegiance

There’s a strange side note too, the magazine was published by the Perry Mason Company in Boston.  Detective story author Earl Stanley Gardner was very fond of  The Youth’s Companion as a child, and … you guessed it … he named his detective hero Perry Mason.

According to the Flag Code, the Pledge “should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.”

Bellamy wrote The Pledge of Allegiance to be brief and to the point, 15 seconds max. There have been several notable changes to The Pledge of Allegiance over the years.  The original pledge was to “my flag”, later in 1923 it was changed to “the Flag of the United States” and still again in 1924 to “the Flag of the United States of America”.  The most controversial change was in 1954 when the words “under god” were added.  Here’s The Pledge of Allegiance as it stands today:

“I 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 Star Spangled Banner

O! Say Can You See?  The Star Spangled Banner came from a dark time in American history.  The War of 1812 wasn’t going well for the United States.  It was 1814 and the British had won the Battle of Bladensburg.  The British force led by Major General Robert Ross occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to many public buildings including the White House and the Treasury.

President Madison sent Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner to meet with Major General Ross to set up a prisoner swap.  They met aboard the British flagship HMS Tonnant and eventually negotiated a deal.

The 15-star, 15-stripe "Star Spangled Banner Flag" which inspired the poem.

The 15-star, 15-stripe “Star Spangled Banner Flag” which inspired the poem.

While negotiating, Key and Skinner had heard some of the plans for the British attack on Baltimore and the British didn’t want to release them until after the bombardment.  British gunboats tried to slip by the defenses during the night.  Key watched bomb blasts and artillery lit up Fort McHenry periodically through the night and noted that the small storm flag was still visible.  Darkness prevented him from seeing if the flag was still flying after the illumination from the bombardment ended.

As dawn lit up the fort, Key saw that the smaller storm flag had been replaced by a larger full size American Flag flying over the fort.  Inspired by sight of the flag that signaled victory, Key started writing a poem on the back of an envelope that he finished later and called “Defence of Fort McHenry”.  It was later set to music and was later used by the Navy during the raising and lowering of the flag.  It wasn’t until 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson designated that it be plaid at other military events.  In 1918, The Star Spangled Banner was played during the 7th inning stretch of the World Series, and later became a tradition at all ball gamed during World War II.

Years later, Key said in a speech:
“I saw the flag of my country waving over a city-the strength and pride of my native State-a city devoted to plunder and desolation by its assailants. I witnessed the preparation for its assaults. I saw the array of its enemies as they advanced to the attack. I heard the sound of battle; the noise of the conflict fell upon my listening ear, and told me that ‘the brave and the free’ had met the invaders.”

The flag that inspired Key came to be known as the Star Spangled Banner Flag and is today on display in the National Museum of American History.

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