On Monday, August 27, CNN was constantly running a chyron claiming the American Legion “scolded” President Trump into issuing a proclamation to re-lower the flags. But, what are the rules? Would President Trump break the flag etiquette rules out of personal animus? If facts matter to you, the answer is readily at hand.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a helpful PDF publication on half-staffing: “Flying the American Flag at Half-Staff.” It informs us:
In the early days of our country, no regulations existed for flying the flag at half-staff and, as a result, there were many conflicting policies. But on March 1, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a proclamation on the proper times.
Let’s look at that proclamation. It is Proclamation 3044–Display of the flag of the United States of America at half-staff upon the death of certain officials and former officials. Note that there are clear distinctions among levels of officials whose passing is being marked, and that these distinctions were set in 1954 by the president who led the Allies to victory in Europe.
WHEREAS it is desirable that rules be prescribed for the uniform observance of this mark of respect by all executive departments and agencies of the Government, and as a guide to the people of the Nation generally on such occasions:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, President of the United States of America and Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the United States, do hereby prescribe and proclaim the following rules with respect to the display of the flag of the United States of America at half-staff upon the death of the officials hereinafter designated:
1. The flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions for the period indicated upon the death of any of the following-designated officials or former officials of the United States:
(a) The President or a former President: for thirty days from the day of death. The flag shall also be flown at half-staff for such period at all United States embassies, legations, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.
(b) The Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives: for ten days from the day of death.
(c) An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a member of the Cabinet, a former Vice President, the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, or the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives: from the day of death until interment.
[Sec. 1 amended by Proc. 3948 of Dec. 12, 1969, 34 FR 19699, 3 CFR, 1966-1970 Comp., p. 446]
2. The flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels of the Federal Government in the metropolitan area of the District of Columbia on the day of death and on the following day upon the death of a United States Senator, Representative, Territorial Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and it shall also be flown at half-staff on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels of the Federal Government in the State, Congressional District, Territory, or Commonwealth of such Senator, Representative, Delegate, or Commissioner, respectively, from the day of death until interment.
So, the senior Senator from Arizona was to be recognized at every federal facility throughout the world from Saturday evening, the 25th of August, through Sunday evening, the 26th of August. All federal facilities in Arizona were to honor Senator McCain by flying the American flag at half-staff through next Saturday, at least.
His funeral will be at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and he will be buried at the cemetery there. The date of the private ceremony has not been publicly released.
Senator McCain chose Annapolis over Arlington because a dear friend is buried there.
So why did the President break protocol and order this particular federal official be honored above those of similar rank? To make the pain go away, rather than explaining the rules that apply to every other official of the same protocol rank. Exit question: may Congressman Sam Johnson enjoy a long life after his planned retirement from Congress, at the end of this term, but, should he pass before then, does anyone seriously believe that the same cast of characters will demand the same honors now being accorded Senator McCain?
The question answers itself, and yet . . . perhaps it is time for the President to update a policy last updated in 1969. President Trump could leverage the occasion to violently agree that American Ex-Prisoners of War deserve more national recognition. Just consider the stories of Admiral Stockdale, Congressman Johnson, and the other nine POWs moved from the Hanoi Hilton to the even greater isolation of “Alcatraz.” The President might also note that there are 72 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, and that these patriots’ passing is at least as worthy of national recognition as the current officials who receive day of and day after death half-staff honors. So, publish a Presidential Proclamation amending PP 3044 with a new paragraph:
American Ex-Prisoners of War and Medal of Honor recipients are deserving of national recognition. Accordingly, their deaths shall be observed as follows:
- Those persons eligible for recognition under paragraph 2 of PP 3044, who are also either American Ex-Prisoners of War or Medal of Honor recipients, shall receive the honors prescribed under paragraph 1(c) of PP 3044.
- The death of all other Medal of Honor recipients shall be honored by flying the flag of the United States at half-staff by the same rule as prescribed in paragraph 2 of PP 3044.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs shall track the deaths of all American Ex-Prisoners of War quarterly. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall report the number and names on the first day of the following quarter, to the President. The President shall issue a proclamation the first Wednesday of each quarter, honoring their sacrifice. On the first Friday after the President issues a proclamation under this paragraph, the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels of the Federal Government.