When should you fly a United States flag at full or half staff? And, what does half mast mean? While half staff and half mast essentially mean the same thing, a United States flag flown at half staff is one that is first brought to the top of the flagpole and then lowered to the middle. Although flags should be flown at full staff most of the time, flying it at half is more appropriate at certain times during the year or for certain situations, such as the death of a President, Justice, or Congressman. Although half mast is essentially flying a flag at half staff out at sea, any United States flags flown at half should have the American flag at the midpoint of the flagpole and all other lesser flags, including state and city flags, should be displayed below the midpoint.
American flags for all government buildings should be displayed at this point for certain holidays. These holidays include Peace Officers Memorial Day, Memorial Day, Patriot Day, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and Korean War Veteran’s Day. On these days, American flags should be flown at this position from sunrise to sunset, but Memorial Day is an exception. On Memorial Day, United States flags should be at half until noon and, from that point on, they should be moved to full staff. The symbolism behind this is that the half is displayed to honor those who died in all wars involving the United States and the full honors the living nation.
Aside from these specific holidays, flags should be moved to half staff whenever a President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, or Member of Congress dies. More specifically, when a President dies, the flag is flown at half for thirty days, while the death of a Vice President, Chief Justice, or Speaker of the House warrants the flag to be flown for ten days. When a current member of Congress passes away, the flag is flown in this position for that day and then for the following day.
Other than these instances, United States flags are flown at half staff when the President issues a yearly proclamation requiring government buildings to do so. Citizens are invited to do so, as well, after the proclamation is issued. Aside from these instances, American flags cannot be moved to half staff for any other reasons, especially if a flag is displayed on a battlefield.