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Say, can you see why some don't salute the flag?

Hilarie Blaney Modified: July 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm •  Published: June 20, 2011

Originally published in The Oklahoman on Saturday, June 11, 2011.
photo - An American flag flies in northwest Norman, Okla. on Friday, June 11, 2010, in Norman, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

How was I first aware that the way to honor and respect our flag and country was by placing my right hand over my heart during the national anthem? When did it become evident how much this action meant to me?

Was it my grade-school teacher and the Pledge of Allegiance, my job in the U.S. Senate in Washington during the bicentennial, a photo of firefighters hoisting the flag at the World Trade Center remains on 9/11, being lucky enough to have missed the Murrah Building bomb by 15 minutes, was it at the Smithsonian seeing the Star Spangled Banner’s words and flag display in Washington in 2009, or the military folks in my family, friends and in this country that have made the commitment to serve an ultimate sacrifice for our freedom?

Yesterday it was opening my passport to travel and noticing the inside left page has Francis Scott Key standing on a ship, looking at the flag with the words, “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” How did I not ever notice this before?

Saluting Old Glory

So, why do some people observe and respect by placing their hands over their hearts and others don’t? Whether it is any sporting event, Rotary club or looking around at the recent basketball playoffs, I have become confused at business people, elected officials, fans as well as ballplayers.

Coach Scott Brooks and Nick Collison place their hands over their hearts. I see a young boy observing, but his 40-year-old father doesn’t. A ball cap comes off the head of a 20-year-old man and one stays on that of a 60 year-old man. Even more confusing to the public, the rules for active and civilian dressed military. There are rules for indoor and outdoor observation of the flag for both groups. Again, as a U.S. citizen, I ask why and why not. Is it laziness, disrespect, awareness or exercising one’s right to “choose” to observe our national symbol of freedom?

Not only was I reared to know, and now as a U.S. and International Protocol consultant, I have been required to read the United States Code for Flag Laws and Regulations. The Code outlines the laws and regulations as to the proper conduct with the flag and seal, seat of Government, official territory papers as well as desecration of the flag and penalties and patriotic and national observances. These laws were supplemented by executive orders and presidential proclamations.

Title 36, Chapter 1, Section 301 of the United States Code says:

National anthem; Star-Spangled Banner, conduct during playing:

During the rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag and the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain its position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.

Celebrating Flag Day

Each year on June 14, we celebrate the birthday of the Stars and Stripes, which came into being on June 14, 1777. At that time, the Second Continental Congress authorized a new flag to symbolize the new Nation, the United States of America.

The Stars and Stripes first flew in a Flag Day celebration in Hartford, Connecticut in 1861, during the first summer of the Civil War. The first national observance of Flag Day was June 14, 1877, the centennial of the original flag resolution. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson called for a nationwide observance of Flag Day on June 14. It was not until 1949 that Congress made this day a permanent observance and designated as Flag Day. The measure was signed into law by President Harry Truman.

When I hear the national anthem being played I stand tall and place my hand over my heart for those in the past, present and in the future that deserve my respect, gratitude and loyalty for sacrificing to protect my family, friends and country from harm.

Oh say … I can see Mary Pickersgill sew and deliver the flag one year before the battle of Baltimore in September 1814, Fort McHenry, the entrance to the Baltimore harbor, a 34-year-old lawyer-poet Francis Scott Key with his telescope turned to the fort, the rocket’s red glare and the bombs bursting in air, our flag still there, o’er the land of the free and the home of the BRAVE.

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A response from Cpt. Ray White Jr., U.S. Army (Ret.), Oklahoma City:

I wish to congratulate Hilarie Blaney for “Say, can you see why some don’t salute flag?” (Etiquette To Go, June 11). This was a fine piece, but I would like to point out an omission. The 2009 National Defense Authorization Act says veterans, retirees and active duty military members not in uniform should render a military-style hand salute during the playing of the national anthem and during the raising, lowering or passing of the flag. The military salute is a unique gesture of respect that marks those who have served in our nation’s armed forces.