It’s one of my favorite times of the year — parades, picnics, fireworks and all things red, white and blue to mark America’s birthday. Growing up in a farming community in the Midwest, summertime meant plenty of hometown parades to celebrate our American pride and values. As a child, I loved all the sights and sounds. As I got older, I was honored to be a member of our high school marching band, turning my observation of the procession of people, floats, firetrucks and flinging candy to full participation in the all-American tradition.
While I still love a good parade, something has been bothering me as the years go on. In fact, it’s really disheartening.
Each parade usually begins with the solemn presentation of the American flag leading the cavalcade of parade entries, often times carried by police or veterans’ organizations. As a mom, I instruct my young children to stand up, cover their hearts with their right hand and remove their hats. I always feel a rushing wave of patriotism as I watch the flag pass. So many memories are conjured every time I see that red, white, and blue symbol of American freedom.
But as I look around at my fellow parade-goers, they are mostly seated, ignoring the flag, wearing hats or seem uncomfortable or bothered by honoring the flag by simply standing. It’s hard to determine if they don’t care about the symbolism or they just don’t know how to act with respect.
Ask any serviceman or servicewoman why it’s important to stand at the passing of the American flag and I’m sure they’ll give you a number of good reasons. First and foremost, for hundreds of years, proud Americans have been fighting to give us the freedom to fly our flag.
Standing for the flag is not about thoughtless or misguided patriotism. It is a symbol of all of the hopeful things America stands for. It is symbolic of freedoms that many people in our world covet, despite our country’s spiritual problems and political divides. By standing for the flag, I honor my country and those who serve it in so many ways. Standing for the flag is not a political expression of support for a particular political party or an expression of jingoism. Rather, it is a deep acknowledgment of my privileged existence as an American in the land of the free.
Standing for the flag shows I still believe in America and her possibilities.
Prior to Flag Day in 1923, there were no official guidelines regarding our star-spangled banner. So, the National Flag Code was drafted by representatives of the Army and Navy under the auspices of the National Americanism Commission of the American Legion. It was printed and given nationwide distribution. On June 22, 1942, Congress passed a joint resolution (later amended on December 22, 1942) that dictated what is known today as the U.S. Flag Code. In the code, there are several sections on how to display the flag, how to maintain and handle the flag, as well as general respect guidelines. Perhaps the most important one dictates how we show respect when the flag passes us by:
“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.”
I’m going to give people the benefit of the doubt and say that we’ve reached a moment where most just don’t know the etiquette required for our most treasured national symbol. Maybe we need another national distribution of the flag code as was given to everyone in 1923.
So I ask you this. Do you know what to do when the flag passes you by? If you don’t, try putting these simple actions into place the next time you watch a parade or see the flag presented in ceremonial fashion. If you do know what to do, keep doing it! Your example helps to model what we all should do. And I would ask that you teach others instead of judge. In a nation of people that easily find offense, offer grace and instead, instruct.
This July 4th, I’ll be standing with my family, proudly honoring our grand old flag as she passes by. I’ll be watching for you to stand too.