4 Places US Flag Never Flown at Half Mast

Discussion in 'Half Mast / Half Staff' started by USAFlags, Jun 8, 2006.

  1. USAFlags

    USAFlags Administrator Staff Member

    4 Places Flag Never Flown at Half Mast...
     
  2. thedadbin

    thedadbin Guest

    Hi Mark:

    What a great question! You are correct, it was very difficult to do research on this topic, as I found several different answers, not just four. I only came up with three that made common sense: The moon, during battle, and anywhere after noon on Memorial Day.

    The moon, of course, is a pretty obvious answer; there is no way to go in outer space every time an occasion calls for the flag on the moon to be flown at half-staff. The flag is always flown at full staff during battle. Historically, only the surrendering country would lower the flag to show defeat and allow the victorious country's flag to fly superior to their enemy. Of course, this would also signify the end of the battle. As far as Memorial Day is concerned, one of the guidelines in the US Code is to fly flags at half-staff until noon and then raise the flag to full staff the remainder of the day.

    I found other answers, but I could not find evidence to support these claims, or I found evidence that proved they do indeed fly at half-staff when appropriate. They are: the home of Betsy Ross; the Alamo; The site of the battle of Iwo Jima; The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; and the USS Arizona (the site of the Pearl Harbor bombing).

    This is a great trivia question that should inspire many more posts. I welcome replies that may have found that elusive 4th answer!

    ~Melissa
     
  3. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    This seems to be a rather silly question if you think about it. There are lots of places in which flags are never half-masted. You normally don't half-mast a flag that is permanently attached to its pole, as is true of military colors (whether in battle or not), most flags displayed on private homes, indoor display flags and, of course, the flags on the moon.

    As Melissa pointed out earlier, lowering the flag to indicate surrender in battle has nothing to do with half-masting.

    Peter Ansoff
     
  4. Danceomany

    Danceomany New Member

    I don't necessarily agree with what Peter just said…about “As Melissa pointed out earlier, lowering the flag to indicate surrender in battle has nothing to do with half-masting. “

    Lowering the flag upon a death remembrance is to let Death’s invisible flag hang above our own flag. Traditionally, and in the current military, the flag was not lowered to halfway down the pole but rather raised to full mast then lowered one flag length down the mast to leave room for “surrendering to death in the battle of lifeâ€￾.



    Karen Scholes
     
  5. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Hello, Karen -- glad to have you in the forum!

    Lowering the flag upon a death remembrance is to let Death’s invisible flag hang above our own flag. Traditionally, and in the current military, the flag was not lowered to halfway down the pole but rather raised to full mast then lowered one flag length down the mast to leave room for “surrendering to death in the battle of lifeâ€￾.

    My point was that half-masting as a sign of mourning, and lowering the flag as a sign of surrender, are different customs that probably did not have a common origin. I'll try to explain my reasoning below.

    According to W. G. Perrin's book "British Flags" (1922), the earliest known mention of half-masting occured in 1612. During an exploring expedition in the Arctic, the captain of one of the ships was killed by Eskimos. When she rejoined the other ship, "her ancient [=ensign] [was] hanging over the poop, which was a sign of death." Perrin remarks "We may conjecture that the original signification of the lowered flag was the passing away of the authority which the flag connoted."

    Hilary P. Mead (Commander, RN), comments in his book "Sea Flags" (1938), that "Several reasons have been advanced to account for the ceremony of hoisting half-mast flags. . .[one explanation] attributes the practice to a motive for making a ship look a slovenly as possible. Untidiness and slovenliness of appearance were supposed to be signs of grief . . . (amongst which may be mentioned [the biblical custom of] sackcloth and ashes) . . . in the Merchant Service ropes are left trailing and yards are scaldalized in furtherance of this principle." This explanation seems consistent with the account in Perrin. Mead continues:

    "Another explanation ascribes the custom to the principle of lowering banners and standards by way of salute. Regimental flags are placed on the ground during a salute to the Royal Family or foreign rulers, merchant ships dip their ensigns to men-of-war, and it naturally follows that national flags should be lowered for a length of time proportionate to the importance of the deceased person."

    Mead mentions the "invisible flag of Death" idea, but he connects it with a different custom, that of flying the victor's flag above the one of a defeated enemy:

    "In the case of a person's decease, Death is assumed to be the Conqueror, and at the half-bare flagstaff, Death's invisible insignia are supposed to be flying above the nation's flag. The distance of the flag from the top of the staff just leaves sufficient space for the unseen device."

    The bottom line is that nobody really knows exactly what half-masting was originally supposed to signify. The "Death's flag" explanation, however, seems more far-fetched than Mead and Perrin's other possibilities. IMHO, it sounds more like a colorful after-the-fact explanation for an already-existing custom.

    Concerning lowering the flag as a sign of surrender, Perrin says:

    ". . . when it became possible for the ship to be destroyed at a distance [i.e., when cannons were mounted on ships], some method of indicating a wish to surrender on terms became necessary. This appears to have first been provided by displaying a [white] flag of truce, a practice that was no doubt adopted about the beginning of the sixteenth century from useage of land warfare where it had been current for many centuries."

    After giving some historical examples, Perrin remarks that by the time of the Second Dutch War in 1666, it had become usual to signify surrender by lowering ones ensign instead of raising a white flag. Perrin says: " . . . perhaps the principal reason for the disuse of the white flag at sea lay in its ambiguity." He points out that both the British "white ensign" and the French naval ensign were white, and could easily be mistaken for a white flag of surrrender.

    In summary, it doesn't seem likely that the two customs share a common origin, although they both seem to have originated at about the same time. Half-masting was probably a ceremonial way to indicate grief at the death of a leader; lowering the flag was a practical way to signal a wish to surrender. Just my thoughts, anyway!

    Thanks again for joining and posting -- hope you enjoy the forum.

    Best regards,

    Peter Ansoff
     
  6. YCHistorian

    YCHistorian New Member

    Re: Must-have references for the Vexillologist

    Peter,

    In your previous reply, you cited a couple of references. As an amateur
    vexillologist, might I ask you to recommend some "must-have" references that any budding flag aficionado should have on his or her bookshelf? Thanks! -YC
     
  7. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Hmm . . . I'll give that some thought and try to put a list together. As you well know, there are hundreds of books out there about the American flag, but most of them just repeat the same old mix of history and legend over and over again. For starters, I'd say that the two best general references are Quaife, Weig and Appleman, "The History of the United States Flag (1961), and Furlong and McCandless, "So Proudly We Hail" (1981). Neither is 100% accurate, but they are much better than most.

    Peter A.
     
  8. SLB

    SLB New Member

    Am researching a riddle - Where is there a group of U. S. Flags that are never lowered to half mast? The answer is the Moon - there are 6 flags - one for each lunar landing....:D
     
  9. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Hi, SLB!

    Am researching a riddle - Where is there a group of U. S. Flags that are never lowered to half mast? The answer is the Moon

    You might want to reword the riddle just a little. I suspect that most people would not think of the flags on the moon as a "group;" they were each placed at different location. They may not all still be there -- I seem to reacall that at least one of them was knocked down by the LEM's exhaust during liftoff.

    Also, as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are many flags that are never lowered to half-mast. In general, this would apply to any flag that is permanently attached to its pole, which includes most flags displayed on residences, etc.

    Annie Platoff, a NAVA member and former NASA employee, wrote a fascinating paper a few years ago about the design and use of the moon flags. You can read it online here:

    Where No Flag Has Gone Before

    Peter Ansoff
     
  10. wow Peter thanksfor the link to the article - definatly an interesting read!!
     
  11. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    Howdy !

    I didn't see it anywhere in this thread, but then I was skimming through it pretty darn quick (PDQ)! :eek:

    I might have a possible "candidate" for a location where the U.S. Flag is never flown at Half-Staff (half-mast). ;)

    How about when it's part of the "Flags Of The Nations" display at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, NY ??? :confused:

    Just a diplomatic (peacetime) thought.....

    Robin "I've Got A 10 foot Pole And I'm Not Afraid To Use It!" Hickman :D
     

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