Happy Flag Day! Or How HGTV Learned the Hard Way How Not to Treat the American Flag

flagJune 14 is Flag Day – did you know that?  No?  Don’t worry. If not, you’re one of the many who have no idea what Flag Day is or why it’s observed.

In 1777, the Flag of the United States of America was adopted by the Second Continental Congress and in 1885 a teacher in Wisconsin named Bernard Cigrand was the first to officially and formally celebrate it.  President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed its commemoration in 1916.

While Flag Day isn’t a holiday, it is a day to remember a historical date – and for a few people, it’s a day to hang the flag in front of the house.  Many Americans forget about Flag Day and see the big “Flag Celebration” as July 4 — Independence Day —  when every city and town in the U.S.A. sprouts flags on every lamppost and window, millions of little copies are waved by crowds at parades and monstrous versions are carried through the streets.

Better yet,  according to HGTV, you can use it as a runner for your picnic table – bonus if you use a polyester one, you can wipe off any drips from the cherry pie!

Needless to say, the Facebook and Twitter universe responded to that disrespectful notion. Gold Star Mothers vehemently objected to the use of a flag that had draped the coffin of their family member in such a disrespectful fashion; service members objected by stating they hadn’t fought for a tablecloth; and there was a general question of how HGTV could possibly have thought this was a good idea.

The designer/writer of this piece was inundated with messages, and her reply was an eyeopener for some of us military families:

Yes, I am so sorry for the improper use of the flag. At the time I wrote the article, which was a few years ago, I was unaware that  using  the flag in that way would be offensive. I am saddened to know that my ignorant decorating mistake hurt others and I apologize. [emphasis added]

Unaware?  Perhaps I was just brought up in a different time and community, but according to her site, she is the grandchild of World War II veterans, and, frankly, I can’t think of any group more flag proud!  Living overseas as I did as a child, I was very aware of how our flag was perceived, from the pride and often the relief from a citizen coming to an embassy for help or the visitor coming for a visa;  or the disdain and hatred that those burning it in the street showed, and their knowledge of how that action was perceived.   But going on post or to a Navy base, the traditions of how to honor the flag meant we stopped at sundown, got out of the car and turned towards the flagpole as the flag was lowered; men and women in uniform saluted, the rest of us put our hands over our hearts.  At a parade, or a function when the flag passed by, hats came off, hands on heart until it passed by.  As an Arlington Lady, I watch members of the Old Guard treat the flag with reverence as they fold it above a coffin, and notice how the families hold that precious triangle after it is presented.

Recently, I was at a parade and was surprised when no one saluted the flag; no one stood, hats stayed on.  Now this discussion has brought it home to me, and I think to others, that there really is a lack of education in how to treat the American flag, how to display it, how to dispose of it. A few points to remember before the 4th of July and the picnics and celebration might be in order?

According to USC 36 Chapter 10, there are rules about how to display, carry and dispose:

§176. Respect for flag

No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.

  • (a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
  • (b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
  • (c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  • (d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
  • (e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
  • (f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
  • (g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
  • (h) The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • (i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
  • (j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
  • (k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Now I can think of a few of these rules that have been broken and are done so daily without anyone saying anything.  For instance,  the use in advertising is mocked by the flags on every pole at a local car dealership or the multitude of napkins and tablecloths being used at picnics all over the country; the athletic uniform rule is smashed by every NFL or NBA uniform worn by teams daily; and the bedraggled state of some flags I have seen in front of schools or post offices is horrendous.

But using a real American flag as a table runner, with the perky little remark that if you use a polyester one, you can clean off food stains before hanging it outside, seems to have been that camel back-breaking straw.

HGTV released a statement after the uproar reached them, very loudly:

HGTV Fans, regarding the recent article that appeared on our website…This was a regrettable use of our flag and it never should have happened. We sincerely apologize and have removed the post from our website. We want to assure our fans that HGTV is proud of the American flag and everything it symbolizes for our people.

This tempest has been noticed by the mainstream media as well. 

I can only hope that this kerfuffle will help educate those who have forgotten or never taught how to display the flag, and how NOT to display this symbol as a household item that doubles as a tablecloth, or worse.

Military Families Editor Karen Francis is a writer and military spouse in the Washington, D.C. area and is the Military Families Editor for The Broad Side. Karen is the principal of KFVA Virtual Assisting, a company that provides freelance writing and editing services.
  • Beverly Uhlmer

    THANKS for this respectful reminder!

  • There is no doubt this is horrible way to treat a flag! But the attack on this poor woman is a little over the top. It’s clearly and undeniably a serious case of the stupids that should be pointed out and used as an example of how *not* to use the flag. Perhaps even a spring board for discussion on how to properly display a flag with honor. However, making it seems like she purposefully didn’t care about the flag and chose to disrespect it even though her she has war veterans in her family, is just nasty. It’s making a mountain out of a molehill. Most issues like these can be easily resolved after educating a person. There is no need to rub her nose in it.

    She apologized, and was sincere, and made a point to realize the error of her ways. What more can you ask?

    • That’s why I wrote this. I am not attacking her – I am trying to use this as the “spring board for discussion”. Some of the attacks on her own page were over the top, but this is a topic that creates strong feelings. Her ignorance is appalling, but not entirely of her own making! The lack of education in how to treat a flag is abysmal. Perhaps this could be a topic for a history class? I know our son learned it from us, but also from Scouts and from guest speakers from the American Legion.

  • “Unaware? Perhaps I was just brought up in a different time and community, but according to her site, she is the grandchild of World War II veterans, and, frankly, I can’t think of any group more flag proud! ”

    It was this comment which I read as an attack on her character.

    That said, yes I agree better education in needed. I don’t think many people see the flag as was traditionally seen. This is actually a much bigger reflection on how many things are taken for granted in our modern society. Many things are a dime a dozen. And to many people the flag is just a flag and nothing more. Because we haven’t lived through a war in our country (thank God) in this generation (aside from perhaps the attack on the towers) most people don’t associate the flag with feelings of pride towards our country or the military.

    I have never treated a flag with this sort of disrespect, but I admit I would not think of it in the way you have described your feelings. And from now on, I likely will. I homeschool my kids and I’ll make a point to show this to them today and we’ll discuss it together. I think you bring up a very good point.

    • a really good place to learn – your local American Legion or Scout Troop – this could be a great homeschool group day out! If you call your local American Legion, I’m sure they would love to do a fun presentation.

      I was amazed that she hadn’t been taught – not at her character.

  • I really don’t see this as an attack piece at all. It’s a totally fair point to question not only the writer, who as the granddaughter of WWII vets should have known a tablecloth is not an appropriate way to use the flag. But I’m also shocked at the editors at HGTV that they didn’t realize, or investigate, before publishing the piece, I also think this is an important essay because it is a good example of how something that is viewed as possible trivial by one group of people is extremely important to another group.

  • Amy McVay Abbott

    I didn’t see this as an attack piece — it is startling to me how someone could not know these things but it was so ingrained in my growing up. We almost always had a flag and a flagpole and the flag was never bedraggled or ever touched the ground. I learned more about proper handling and respect for a flag from my son’s Scouting days, and am glad that someone is willing to speak up on these issues.

    Most Boy Scout troops will take old flags from people and properly dispose of them which is something many people may not know.

  • Marti Teitelbaum

    I find myself betwixt & between. I grew up in a time where we learned, in school, rules about American flags, including the special way you’re supposed to fold them when you take them down at sunset.
    OTOH, I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance in high school because of the Vietnam War (and because of my discomfort with “under god” stuck into the pledge during the Eisenhower administration).
    I never engaged in flag burning, and wouldn’t, but I would defend anyone else’s right to do so — so long as they didn’t endanger others with the flames.
    But there is something clueless about perkily suggesting using the American flag as a table cloth.

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