Memorial Day Flag Etiquette

Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day, was originally designated as a day to honor those killed in service to our country. This was done by decorating the graves of the fallen. Parades, moments of silence, the playing of taps and ceremonial gatherings to honor veterans are also traditional. In all these activities, the American flag is likely to be on display. Here are some guidelines for ensuring that this is done in keeping with flag code.


According to, on Memorial Day the flag is to be flown at half-staff until noon, and then at full-staff until sunset. The standard flag rules say to take the flag down at sunset, unless you have it properly illuminated, in which case you can leave it up all night, too. When raising the flag to half-staff, first raise it quickly to full-staff, then slowly down to half-staff.

Flag Code

Some of the many rules about proper flag etiquette are likely to apply to Memorial Day observance activities. Remember that the American flag should always be higher than other flags (such as state flags). If for some reason the flags of other nations will also be displayed, they should be on separate poles with the flags at the same height as the American flag. The American flag is never to touch the ground, be written on, be worn as clothing, have anything attached to it, or be printed on anything made to be disposable. The flag isn't to be flown in inclement weather, unless it is an "all-weather" flag. It isn't to be flown upside down, except as a distress signal.

In Parades

If you are carrying or displaying a flag during a Memorial Day Parade, follow these rules: flags on floats must be on a staff or against a wall (correctly oriented, with the union---the blue field of stars, to the left), not draped on the float; don't drape a flag over a vehicle of any kind; vehicles can display a flag on a staff, if it is firmly fixed so that it can't fall over; if the flag is being carried on foot, it should be in front of other flags (if there are several in a line), or on the right end of the line of flags. Flags suspended over the street, according to the Flag Code, "should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street."

On Graves

It is a long-standing custom to decorate veterans' graves with small American flags. Soldiers do this at Arlington National Cemetery. Boy Scouts do the same at various national cemeteries across the country. It is important to proper flag etiquette to ensure that the flags remain upright on the graves, and do not touch the ground. The soldiers at Arlington maintain a 24-hour vigil to make certain about this, all through Memorial Day weekend.