The ornament at the top of a flag pole or flagstaff is called the finial. Although U.S. Flag Code Title 4 Chapter 1 does not specify what ornament to use, each branch of military service has its own etiquette for the ornament that is appropriate in each situation.
Per Section 8 of Army Regulation 840-10, Army organizations are restricted to the use of four finials on their installations: the eagle for Presidential flagstaffs, the spearhead for Army flags, the acorn for markers and the ball for both outdoor wall-mounted advertising flags and the U.S. flag that the installation flies.
Air Force Guidelines
The Air Force directs that an eagle finial be used for Presidential flagstaffs and a silver spade finial be used for Air Force flagstaffs, in Air Force Instruction 34-1201. All other flagstaff ornaments are being phased out through attrition. The installation U.S. flagpole uses a ball ornament.
The Navy has the most specific regulations for ornaments, as well as the greatest number of ornaments. Naval Telecommunications Procedures 13 states that the "topping ornament" for the U.S. flagpole at naval shore activities is to be a "brass ball of appropriate size."
Flagstaff ornaments are described in detail in Chapter 11. Guidons use a spearhead ornament. The Navy flag and battalion colors use a battle-ax flagstaff ornament. The U.S. flag, called the national ensign when displayed on a boat, receives a different topping ornament based on the rank of the individual in the boat. Likewise, personal flags and command or commission pennants use an ornament reflective of rank.
A spread eagle is used for individuals who receive a 19-gun salute or higher. A halberd is used for flag officers who receive lower than a 19-gun salute or a civilian that receives at least 11, but less than 19. A ball is used for officers who rank the same as the Captain in the Navy, as well as for certain diplomats, such as consuls. A star is used for officers of equivalent rank to the Commander in the Navy. A flat truck is used for officers below the rank of the Commander in the Navy. When personal flags or pennants are displayed indoors on staffs, the ornaments used are the same as those on boats.
The staff ornament for the U.S. flag when not on display in a boat is a battle-ax.
Marine Corps Guidelines
The Marine Corps uses Navy regulations for the display of the U.S. flag; therefore, Marine Corps installations use a brass ball on their U.S. flag poles. The Marine Corps Flag Manual also directs that flagstaffs for guidons, colors and standards use a spearhead ornament. Flagstaffs for advertising and recruiting use a ball ornament.
Coast Guard Guidelines
Under Title 14 of the United States Code, when acting in its military role, the Coast Guard follows the regulations of the Department of the Navy. Coast Guard activities on shore use a brass ball for U.S. flag poles.
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