Why Are the U.S. Flags at Half-Staff Today: Your Guide to Flying the Flag at Half-Staff

Flying the flag at half-staff is an important mark of respect during times of national mourning. This act is one of the few that unites the country, showcasing a common mindset and shared connection. You can keep up with half-staff days by downloading AmericanFlags.com’s half-staff calendar and signing up for our email list, where we deliver half-staff notifications free of charge.  

Why Are the U.S. Flags at Half-Staff Today? 

Typically, the United States flag is flown at full staff atop a flagpole. However, there are times when you should lower it to half-staff. Understanding when to display your flag at half-staff can help you show respect during special holidays and national times of mourning. 

The death of a principal government official, military member, or other notable figure 

The first reason why a half-staff proclamation is given is in response to the death of a government official, military member, or another notable figure. This list can include former Presidents and Vice Presidents or others who played a significant role in the nation’s government.  

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff flags following the death of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. This was to pay homage to her life and legacy.  

It is also common for the president or state governors to order flags at half-staff to honor military personnel killed in action. In some cases, the President may issue a half-staff alert for significant figures who are not U.S. citizens, like when Pope John Paul died in 2005. 

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Three U.S. flags at half-staff Three U.S. flags at half-staff

A national tragedy 

A Presidential proclamation ordering the flag lowered to half-staff may be issued following a tragic event like a mass shooting or national disaster to pay respects to the victims of the tragedy. Any negative event that powerfully impacts all citizens is considered a national tragedy and should be recognized with honor and respect. 

Half-staff days 

While the flag is lowered in response to unexpected events like the death of a notable figure or a national tragedy, it is also flown at half-staff on specific days throughout the year. While many of the designated half-staff days are national holidays, some are not. This makes the act a special way to honor those who may otherwise not receive recognition for their service. 

While the flag is lowered in response to unexpected events like the death of a notable figure or a national tragedy, it is also flown at half-staff on specific days throughout the year. While many of the designated half-staff days are national holidays, some are not. This makes the act a special way to honor those who may otherwise not receive recognition for their service. 

National Firefighters Memorial Day 

Originally celebrated in October, National Firefighters Memorial Day was moved in 2023 to the first weekend in May. In recognition of those who lost their lives, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation began a tradition called the Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters in 2017. On this day, families and fire departments illuminate their homes with red lights to honor those who have died. Those who wish to show support can also plant a firefighter stick flag on the gravesite of a fallen firefighter.  

Peace Officers Memorial Day 

Created in 1961 by Congress and signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, Peace Officers Memorial Day is held on May 15 and pays tribute to local, state, and federal law enforcement officers who became disabled or lost their lives in the line of duty. Show your support for your local police by hanging a thin blue line flag in front of your home.  

Memorial Day 

America celebrates Memorial Day on the last Monday in May to honor the brave servicemembers who gave their lives protecting the country. The flag should be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to noon. This is to honor the dead in the morning and the living for the rest of the day, symbolizing our great nation's resiliency and ability to rise from the ashes. 

Patriot Day 

Patriot Day is the newest half-staff day. As a national day of mourning, Patriot Day recognizes the 2,977 people killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks. Citizens across the U.S. observe a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. to mark the moment the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Show your support by hanging a Patriot Day flag or garden banner.  

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day 

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day became an official half-staff day in 1994. It honors the 2,400 brave military members and U.S. citizens who died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. As a result of these actions, the United States officially joined World War II. 

Those who want to mark upcoming half-staff days can download our free half-staff calendar, only available at AmericanFlags.com! 

Who Issues Half-Staff Proclamations? 

Half-staff proclamations can only be made by the U.S. President, the mayor of the District of Columbia, or a state governor. 

How Can I Keep Up with Half-Staff Alerts? 

AmericanFlags.com will notify you whenever the President issues a half-staff alert within the United States of America. Some states provide a notification service for state-wide half-staff alerts. If you live in the following states you can subscribe on their website. If your state is not listed below, we recommend searching your state + half-staff alerts to see any services they offer.

●      Florida Alerts 
●      Illinois Alerts 
●      Massachusetts Alerts 
●      Michigan Alerts 
●      North Carolina Alerts 
●      Ohio Alerts 
●      Pennsylvania Alerts 
●      Texas Alerts 
●      Virginia Alerts 

How Long Should a Flag Fly at Half-Staff? 

The length of time a flag flies at half-staff varies depending on the reason it is lowered. The timespans range up to 30 days and are listed below. 

●      When a President, current or former, dies - 30 days 
●      When a Vice President dies - 10 days 
●      When a current or retired chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court dies - 10 days 
●      When a member of the House of Representatives dies - 10 days 

According to the Flag Code, the flag should be flown at half-staff on the day an official dies until the day of interment. This rule applies to the following officials: 

●      A House of Representatives majority or minority leader 
●      A Supreme Court associate justice 
●      The Senate president pro tempore 
●      A former Vice President 
●      The Senate minority leader 
●      A cabinet member 
●      The Senate majority leader 

The flag should be flown at half-staff on all federal grounds and buildings, including the White House and state capitols, along with naval vessels in Washington D.C., when the following government officials die: 

●      The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner 
●      Any United States Senator 
●      A U.S. territorial delegate 
●      A U.S. representative 

Are Private Citizens Required to Lower Their Flag to Half-Staff? 

Typically, half-staff proclamations only apply to federal and/ or state facilities. Private citizens are not required to lower their flags. However, they may choose to do so out of respect.  

When flying the flag at half-staff, it is important to ensure you do it correctly to avoid damaging the flag and flagpole. You should also check for the correct timespan to ensure you raise the flag at the appropriate time. 

How Do I Lower the Flag to Half-Staff? 

Lowering the flag to half-staff depends on the type of flagpole you have. Follow the directions below to ensure you do it correctly without harming the flag or pole. 

Standard In-Ground Flagpole 

When lowering the flag on a standard in-ground flagpole, be sure to raise it to the top as normal. Allow it to stay there for a few seconds before slowly lowering the flag to the middle of the flagpole and tying off the halyard. For flags that are already flying at the top of the flagpole, simply begin lowering it to the middle and tie it off securely. 

Telescopic Flagpole 

Telescopic flagpoles are unique in that they compress and extend for easy attachment. To fly your flag at half-mast with this model flagpole, lower the extension and unclip the flag from the top ring. Next, attach it to the bottom ring. Once clipped on securely, raise the pole, and the flag will sit at half-mast. 

Porch Flagpole 

Due to their construction, you cannot lower a flag to half-mast on a porch flagpole. Instead, you can attach a mourning bow to the top of the flagpole. Mourning bows should be the same width as the stripe and the same length as the flag. AmericanFlags.com sells high-quality mourning bows specially crafted to these proportions. 

Be sure to also lower any state or custom flags flying alongside your U.S. flag. If you notice your U.S. or state flags brushing against the ground during half-staff days, consider purchasing a smaller flag to avoid violating the U.S. flag code. When using a free-standing flagpole, the length of your flag should be between 1/3 and ¼ the size of your flagpole to avoid touching the ground when lowered to half-staff.  

When Should I Display the American Flag at Full Staff? 

The American Flag can be displayed at full-staff on any day that isn’t a day of mourning. You can see both the national and state flags in front of many state buildings and public buildings as a way to show respect and honor to our great nation. Proudly fly the American flag at full-staff year-round, including on the following days: 

●      Martin Luther King Jr. Day - 3rd Monday in January 
●      Washington’s Birthday / Presidents’ Day - 3rd Monday in February 
●      Juneteenth National Independence Day - June 19 
●     Independence Day - July 4 
●      Labor Day - 1st Monday in September 
●      Columbus Day - 2nd Monday in October 
●      Veterans Day - November 11 
●      Thanksgiving Day - 4th Thursday in November 

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