Customary Dates to Fly Half-Staff: A Comprehensive Guide

  • Peace Officers Memorial Day: Celebrated on May 15th, unless it coincides with Armed Forces Day (sunrise to sunset).
  • Memorial Day: Observed on the last Monday in May (sunrise to noon).
  • Patriot Day: Commemorated on September 11th (sunrise to sunset).
  • National Firefighters Memorial Day: Typically held in May (Note: In 2023, Memorial Weekend has been moved to May).
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day: Remembered on December 7th (sunrise to sunset).

In the realm of honoring the solemn moments in our nation's history, the act of flying the American flag at half-staff holds a significant position. It is a symbol of respect, mourning, or remembrance, and the customary dates on which we lower the flag carry immense importance. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the tradition of flying the flag at half-staff, exploring the rules, regulations, and the profound significance of this gesture.

The Historical Significance

To truly understand the custom of flying the flag at half-staff, we must delve into its historical origins. This timeless tradition traces its roots back to the 17th century. Back then, when a ship lost its captain during a voyage, the crew would lower the ship's flag halfway down the mast as a sign of mourning. Over time, this practice transitioned onto land, and it became a symbol of mourning and respect for those who had passed away.

Rules and Regulations

Federal Guidelines

The United States federal government has established specific guidelines and protocols for lowering the flag to half-staff. These guidelines are not only a mark of respect but also a means of ensuring consistency and unity in this symbolic gesture. Key points to consider include:

Presidential Proclamations

The President of the United States has the authority to issue proclamations ordering the flag to be flown at half-staff. These proclamations are typically issued to honor the passing of prominent figures, national tragedies, or significant events.

National Days of Mourning

On certain occasions, such as the death of a sitting or former president, the flag is automatically lowered to half-staff nationwide. This practice is an expression of national mourning and solidarity.

State and Local Guidelines

While federal guidelines are applicable across the entire nation, states and local governments may have their own rules for lowering the flag at half-staff. It is important to be aware of these specific regulations, which can vary from one state to another.

Military Protocol

The military plays a crucial role in upholding this tradition. In the armed forces, the flag is lowered to half-staff during memorial services and in remembrance of fallen soldiers. This practice reinforces the significance of honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Significant Dates

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday in May, is a day of reflection and remembrance for those who died in military service. The flag is flown at half-staff until noon and then raised to full-staff as a symbol of the nation's resilience.

Peace Officers Memorial Day

Peace Officers Memorial Day is observed on May 15th, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. On this day, from sunrise to sunset, the flag is flown at half-staff to honor the sacrifices of law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Patriot Day

Patriot Day falls on September 11th, and from sunrise to sunset, the flag is lowered to half-staff to remember the tragic events of that day in 2001. It is a day to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.

National Firefighters Memorial Day

Memorial Weekend has been moved to May for 2023. On this day, the flag is flown at half-staff to pay tribute to firefighters who have bravely battled fires and sacrificed their lives to protect communities.

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

On December 7th, from sunrise to sunset, the flag is lowered to half-staff to commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It serves as a reminder of the resilience of our nation during times of adversity.

Local Observances

In addition to national and federal observances, there are often local events and occasions that call for the flag to be flown at half-staff. These may include memorial services, funerals, or other community-driven expressions of mourning or respect.


The act of flying the American flag at half-staff is a poignant and time-honored tradition that conveys respect, mourning, and remembrance. Understanding the rules and guidelines associated with this practice is crucial to ensuring it is carried out with the utmost dignity and significance. By adhering to federal, state, and local regulations and observing the prescribed dates, we can pay our respects to those who have shaped our nation's history and honor the values it stands for.

Sep 9th 2023

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