Half Mast Flag

One hundred years ago when I was a boy scout I’d only see US flag flown at half mast when a president or famous war celebrity like Gen Mac Arthur died.

But apparently the rules for this have changed as I see the US flag flown at half mast about 100 days a year. Are there still guidelines and protocols for flying a US flag half mast or can I do it anytime I want for whoever I want?

Strictly speaking, of course you can.

The President can order flags to be flown at half-mast for any person/event, for any number of days that he specifies. Technically, this only applies to flags at Federal buildings (like courthouses & post offices), but most state government buildings, schools, and businesses tend to follow along.

As a private individual, you can do whatever you like. If you are a public official or organisation, there will be protocols that you should follow, and of course as a private individual you can choose to follow them.

The US federal government protocol is:

  • Half-mast for 30 days after the death of the president or a former president

  • Half-mast for 10 days at half-staff after the death of the VP, a serving or retired chief justice, the speaker of the House of Representatives.

  • Half-mast from death til funeral for an associate Supreme Court justice, member of the Cabinet, former VP, president pro tempore of the Senate, majority or minority leader of the Senate, majority or minority leader of the House of Representatives.

  • Half-mast on the day of death and the following day for a United States senator or representative

  • In a particular state, half-mast from death til funeral on the death of the governor.

  • On other occasions as the President orders. He may do this to mark the death of other officials, former officials, or foreign dignitaries or to mark recent tragic events.

State governors can order the flag to half-mast to mark the death of state officials, judges, legislators, etc or to mark local remembrances. They can do this case-by-case or adopt a protocol analogous to the federal one.


If one chooses to, this phenomenon can be viewed as part of a trend - in which people suppose themselves to be mourning even though they’ve never had anything to do with the deceased person.

As soon as I saw the title of the thread, I knew someone would race in to quote this fake rule.

I’m not sure why you call it fake. Just because many use the terms interchangeably doesn’t mean there is no distinction. My father who was a Marine always said half-mast. In the Army I never heard it as anything other than half-staff.

Since the origins go back several hundred years, that’s a slow burning trend.

Which days always have the flag flown at half mast?
I know this is the case for Memorial Day, Sept 11, and Pearl Harbor day. Are there any others?

A private organization can fly their flag at half mast/half staff whenever they want.

The private college I went to would fly their flag at half staff whenever one of their trustees died.

How many know the proper procedure to put a flag at half mast?

You mean quickly up to full, and then slowly lowered to half? And when it’s time to take it down, quickly to full again, and slowly all the way back down.

I knew someone would be posting this after I read Duckster’s post. :smiley:

Always, even when the flag he was speaking of wasn’t on a ship?

It’s not a fake rule, it’s just a pedantic rule that is often not followed even by people who know both ways perfectly well.

No, to be technical, if it is half-mast, your raise it to the truck, and then lower it to the half-mast position.

How those sloppy landlubbers describe it is anyone’s guess.

Interestingly, the official Navy regulations state that, even on ships, the “national ensign” is to be flown from the “flagstaff” (when not underway; underway, it flies from the “gaff”). See Chapter 12, Section 8, Article 1259.3 of the Navy Regulations.

Of course. Marines often use nautical terms when not on a ship. Like calling saying deck instead of floor.

Sure, but we were talking about a “rule” and whether or not is was “fake.” What’s just said casually is a different thing.