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Flag Flying Days (U.S.)

Last modified: 2002-10-12 by rick wyatt
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I've noticed that many countries have specified days for flying the national flag. The practice in the U.S. is different - government installations fly the flag every day and the public can fly it whenever they choose - there is a custom in the military and foreign services of displaying larger-than-usual flags on a number of days established by law, Presidential proclamation, or service custom. In addition, there are specific flag-related traditions associated with several of those days. Here they are, drawn from the relevant service regulations and other directives:


U.S. Special Flag Flying Days
January 1 New Year's Day
January 20 Inauguration Day (every fourth year)
3rd Monday in Jan Martin Luther King, Jr., Birthday
3rd Monday in Feb President's Day (note 1)
(Variable) Easter Sunday
April 6 Army Day (Navy only)
April 13 Thomas Jefferson's Birthday (Army only)
April 14 Pan American Day (embassies in Latin America)
May 1 Loyalty Day/Law Day (Army only)
2nd Sunday in May Mothers Day
3rd Saturday in May Armed Forces Day (note 2)
May 22 National Maritime Day (Army & Navy only) (note 2)
Last Monday in May Memorial Day (note 3)
June 14 Flag Day
3rd Sunday in June Fathers Day (Army only)
July 4 Independence Day (note 4)
August 19 National Aviation Day (Army only)
1st Monday in Sept Labor Day
September 17 Constitution Day
September 11 Patriot Day (note 5)
Last Sunday in Sept Gold Star Mothers Day (Army only)
2nd Monday in Oct Columbus Day (October 12 at Foreign Service posts)
October 27 Navy Day (Navy and Marine Corps only)
November 10 Marine Corps Birthday (Marine Corps only)
November 11 Veterans Day
4th Thursday in Nov Thanksgiving Day
December 17 Pan American Aviation Day (embassies in Lat Am)
December 25 Christmas Day

On the days specified, Army posts fly the garrison flag, measuring 20 by 38 feet (6.1 by 11.6 meters) in lieu of the usual post flag (8.95 by 17 feet, or 2.7 by 5.2 meters). This has been the approximate size of the garrison flag since at least 1834, when the Regulations of the U.S. Army decreed that the garrison flag would not exceed 20 by 40 feet. In addition, Army posts may display the garrison flag for regional celebrations when directed by the post commander.

Naval vessels and installations fly holiday-size colors of the next larger size from those normally flown. The size of the flags used depends on the size of the ship or, at shore facilities, the height of the flagpole. Holiday-size colors for the largest ships (over 450 feet) are normally 8.95 by 17 feet. Holiday-size colors of 20 by 38 feet are used by shore installations with flagpoles of 55 feet or more. In addition to the days listed above, ships and installations may fly holiday size colors on the anniversary of the admission to the Union of the state in which they are located, or on foreign holidays when in foreign waters.

Marine Corps posts fly the 20 by 38 foot garrison flag only on flagpoles 65 feet or taller. In addition to the days listed above, garrison flags are displayed every Sunday.

The Air Force does not use holiday-size colors or fire gun salutes.

American diplomatic and consular missions normally display flags measuring 5 by 9.5 feet (1.6 by 3.1 meters), but use larger or smaller flags depending on the size of the building housing the mission and the height of the flagpole. Chiefs of mission may fly larger-than-usual flags on the days indicated above.


1. Navy and Coast Guard ships in commission, not underway, full-dress ship from 0800 to sunset. (This entails displaying the largest national ensign available at the flagstaff, additional national ensigns at each masthead (except those displaying a personal flag or command pennant), and an array of signal flags from stem to stern in accordance with the sequence specified in the pertinent signal directives.) Saluting ships and Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard installations with saluting batteries fire a 21-gun national salute at noon.

2. Navy and Coast Guard ships in commission, not underway, dress ship from 0800 to sunset. (This is the same as full-dressing ship, but without the array of signal flags from stem to stern.)

3. The flag is displayed at half-staff until noon (except as indicated below), then hoisted to the top of the flagpole for the remainder of the day.

At Army installations with a band, an "appropriate air" is played immediately before noon. Installations equipped with the necessary equipment fire a national salute of 21 guns (at three-second intervals) beginning at noon, at the conclusion of which the flag is hoisted to the top of the pole. The flag is then saluted by the band's playing of "appropriate patriotic music."

Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard ships and installations fly the national ensign at half-mast beginning at morning colors (0800). At noon, saluting ships and installations with saluting batteries fire a salute of 21 minute guns. At the conclusion of this salute (or at 1220 aboard ships and installations not firing the salute), the ensign is hoisted to the peak or truck and remains there until evening colors at sunset.

4. At noon, Army installations with saluting equipment fire a salute to the Union consisting of one gun for every state (50 guns) at three-second intervals. Ships in commission not under way full dress ship from 0800 to sunset. Saluting ships and Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard installations with saluting batteries fire a national salute of 21 guns (at five-second intervals) at noon. If July 4 falls on a Sunday, the gun salutes and full dressing of ships are postponed to July 5.

5. The flag is displayed at half-staff for the entire day.

Joe McMillan, 11 October 1999

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