The United States and other countries commonly lower a flag to half-mast or half-staff during a time of grief, mourning or remembrance. A specific etiquette applies both as to the designated days of the year when doing so is planned and encouraged and when unexpected circumstances call for it. The earliest recorded incident of this practice was in 1612 after the commander of the Royal Navy ship Heart’s Ease was killed in the Arctic while sailing between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Federal guidelines designate special days of remembrance when it is customary to fly the flag at half-mast. Sunrise-to-sunset days include Peace Officers Memorial Day on May 15, Patriot Day on September 11 and Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on December 7. On Memorial Day the flag is to be flown at half-mast from sunrise to noon, and then raised back to its peak position at the top of the pole.
Other days are designated when it is appropriate, as a sign of respect, to lower the flag to half-mast. These include President's Day on the third Monday in February, Flag Day on June 14 and Veteran's Day on November 11. Though not a mandate to do so as on federally designated days, flying the flag at half-mast on these days indicates a show of honor.
Days of Mourning
According to U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7, a flag shall be flown at half-mast for 30 days following the death of the president or a former president. The same practice will occur for 10 days following the death of the vice president, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, a retired chief justice or the Speaker of the House of Representatives. In the event of the death of a former vice president, secretary of an executive or military department, associate justice of the Supreme Court or the governor of a state, territory or possession, the flag will be flown at half-mast from the day of death until interment. If a member of Congress dies, the flag is to be flown at half-mast the day of death and the following day.
The president of the United States has the authority to order that the flag be flown half-staff at any time and for any duration of time as he sees fit in recognition of a national tragedy or the death of a noted leader.
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