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Is the Flag at Half-Staff for a Reason?

by Meg Porter
February 23, 2015

I don’t know about you, but for the last month or so when I drive through town, I notice the flag in front of Holliston Town Hall. It has been at half-staff for weeks/months. I want to know why, it bothers me.

Before writing this story, I didn't know much about American Flag etiquette, so I went to Google for answers.  On June 22, 1942 Congress passed a joint resolution, later amended on December 22, 1942 that outlined what is now known as the U.S.. Flag code. A few details contained in the U.S.. Flag Code are summarized below.

The Flag of the U.S. is the emblem of our identity as a separate nation and has been for more than 200 years. It is customary to display the flag from sunrise to sunset on flagstaffs in the open. On special occasions it may be displayed at night for patriotic effect. Sufficient lighting is required so that passers by can tell it is the American Flag. The flag should not be displayed during inclement weather so that it does not get damaged unless it is a rugged, weather resistant flag.

The flag is to be displayed on all days, especially on numerous holidays (too many to list) and other days proclaimed by the President of the United States. The flag should fly high at all public institutions, at or near every polling place on Election Day and schools when school is in session.

When flown at half-staff, the flag should first be hoisted to the top for an instant, and then lowered to the half staff position. The flag must be flown at half-staff on all buildings on the death of any officer listed below, for the period indicated.  Only the President or a state Governor may order the flag to be displayed at half-staff.

For the President or former President: 30 Days from the date of death.
For the Vice President, Chief Justice or retired Chief Justice, Speaker of the House of Representatives: 10 days from the day of death

For 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/Minority Leader of the House of Representatives: From the day of death until internment.

For a U.S.. Senator, Representative, Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico: the flag should be flown in the metropolitan area of the District of Columbia, on the day of death and on the following day; in the state, congressional district, territory, or commonwealth of such Senator, Representative, Delegate, or Commissioner, from day of death until internment.

For a Governor: Within the state, territory, or possession, from the day of death until internment.

The U.S.. flag code does not mention former Senators or how the flag is to be displayed when Veterans die.             

This just in, before I started writing this article I sent an email to Kevin Conley asking if he knew why the flag in front of the Town Hall was still at half-staff. I had almost finished the article when his response came in. “It’s at half staff until former Senator Brooke is buried”. In addition he included an email sent on 2/17/2015 from sharlene.a.queenan@state.ma.us Subject: No change in the half staff notification for former Senator Brooke. She “made another call to the Governor’s Office about the half-staffing of the flag in honor of former U.S.. Senator Brooke. The answer is the same. It is a statute (law) that the flag remain at half-staff until he is interred. From what I can tell, he will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery on or about March 10. The flags must remain at half-staff until then.”

Okay,  now I understand, but I’m still curious. Edward W. Brooke, III was elected in 1966. It seems a long period of time for our flag to remain at half-staff because a former Senator who, for some unknown reason, has not been buried yet.  If all Town flags are to be displayed at half-staff until his burial, shouldn't the flags in front of our police station and schools be flying at half staff? The town flags in Wellesley are not flying at half-staff.

That's all from me for now. Please let us know your thoughts, observations and opinions. Thank you Kevin Conley for your thorough response.

On March 10, 2015, HPD forwarded this communicATION:

From: State House Events

To: Gatch@hollistonpolice.com

Sent: Tuesday, March 10, 2015 11:37 AM

Subject: Flags Raised Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Please be advised that Governor Charlie Baker has ordered the United States flag and the Commonwealth flag be raised to the top of the flag pole at sunset today - Tuesday, March 10, 2015 at all state buildings. As a reminder the flags have been at half-staff in honor of United States Senator Edward W. Brooke who passed away on January 3, 2015 and will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery today, Tuesday, March 10, 2015 at 3pm.
This gubernatorial order applies to:

1.  The main or administration building of each public institution of the Commonwealth, e.g. town and city halls

2.  Other state-owned or state-controlled buildings

3.  All state military installations


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Comments (4)

I don't see the honoring of Senator Brooke was "willy-nilly". He was elected well before I was a resident of the state, but his election was historic. He was a 2 term Senator from 1967-1979, and the last Republican Senator from Massachusetts before Scott Brown. Just because he was elected a long time ago doesn't mean that we shouldn't honor his service to us as prescribed by law.

- Hungry Hippo | 2/23/15 5:06 PM

Correction: the town owned flags in Wellesley are at half-staff.

Also, I neglected to add a comment about the condition of the flag pole itself. It needs to be scraped and painted. The America in Bloom constituents continue to mention the disgraceful rusty condition of the flag pole in front of our Town Hall.

- Meg Porter | 2/23/15 4:33 PM

The subject of flying The Flag at half staff will be one of the subjects discussed at the next meeting of The MetroWest Veterans Consortium. March 17th at Framingham State. This came up at our last meeting, but we decided to table it due to the length of the agenda and the feeling that this would be a spirited discussion.

- Steve Bradford | 2/23/15 2:05 PM

I entirely agree with your article and its sentiment. A lowering of the flag is a HIGH HONOR to be saved for those we, the people, have deemed appropriate to represent us and run our government at the highest levels. The willy-nilly lowering whenever somebody who held some public office or some public service cheapens the honor greatly. I find it hard to continue caring about when a flag is at half-staff for it seems to be lowered at the death of everyone. While no persons passing is trivial, some deaths demand more decorum than others.

- Andrew Mades | 2/23/15 1:07 PM



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