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Hurdles to Flying the U.S. Flag Properly

In the previous article I wrote about the questions I routinely get about properly flying the U.S. flag. It shouldn’t be this hard, should it? In this article I want to solve some of the flag-flying problems caused by poor planning and bad flagpole configurations. Multiple flagpoles are generally the problem.

It’s not the U.S. Flag Code that is causing the confusion, but rather how flagpoles are installed. Some flagpole configurations force the flags to be flown the wrong way in order to them look right by placing the U.S. flag most prominently. Here are some examples to illustrate the point. These are problems I see everyday while driving around.

Flagpole Positions

Threepoles_equalheightScenario: Three poles of equal height placed in a triangle.

Problem: From the viewer’s position, the flags at left are arranged, Texas flag, U.S. flag, company flag. Most people place the U.S. flag on the center pole because it "Just looks right." However, that is not the case.

The Code is clear: no flag ever goes to the U.S. flag’s right if on adjacent flagpoles of equal height.

Solution: Using the Flag Code as our guide, the flags should be arranged from the viewers left to right (which is the flag’s right): U.S. flag, Texas flag, company flag. Since the center pole isn’t taller, the U.S. flag is improperly positioned in this photograph.

Threepoles_alldifferentheightsScenario: Multiple poles staggered in height from the shortest to tallest.

 Problem: The U.S. flag is on the tallest pole, but is to the viewers right, rather than the left (or the flag’s own right). This violates Section 7(f) also … by placing other flags to the U.S. flags right. This is a terrible flagpole design.

Solution: With this flagpole configuration, it is impossible to fly the flags correctly … period. If the U.S. flag is placed to its own right, that places it on the lowest flagpole. Section 7(f) clearly states: No flag can fly above the U.S. flag. Equal yes; above, no!

Threepoles_tallcenterScenario: Three flagpoles arranged with a taller center pole and two shorter poles of equal height.

Problem: When flying the configuration of flags shown, U.S. flag, State flag, company flag, this scenario is perfect. The U.S. flag is on the taller center pole with the other two flags adjacent. There is a problem with this photograph though. I took this picture from the building side of the flags, so the Texas flag is positioned wrong.

Solution: All that’s needed to correct this problem is move the Texas flag to the right pole and the company flag to the left pole.

Scenario: Three flagpoles arranged with a taller center pole and two shorter poles of equal height (same as above). Flying U.S. flag, Canada flag, State flag.

Problem: As stated in Section 7(g) of the Flag Code, when flags of other countries are flown along side the U.S. flag, they must be on adjacent poles of equal height with flags of similar size.

Solution: With this flagpole configuration, there is no proper way to fly this combination of flags without starting an international incident. You really didn’t mean to do that, did you?

Twopoles_perpendicularScenario:  Multiple flagpoles lined up perpendicular to the building and sidewalk, not parallel to the building.

Problem:  The Flag Code assumes that multiple poles will be placed parallel across the front of the building, not perpendicular to the building. It doesn’t give instruction on this configuration.

Solution: That’s tough since it isn’t covered by the Flag Code. I assume you would use respect for the flags as the guide, but it’s a very poor flagpole design. In the picture to the right, the front pole is taller, so the U.S. flag positioned there is something I’m comfortable with.

However, I’ve witnessed this configuration with three flagpoles of equal height, too. There are three of these near here next to the freeway. My solution is to determine the flags’ own right by freeway direction. Assume the near-side oncoming cars are the viewers and place the flags front to back, U.S. flag, State flag, and company flag. This leaves cars on the other side of the freeway looking at the flags in reverse, but there is no other way with this arrangement. Again, a bad flagpole design.

  SixFlagsOverTexasThis display of the Six flags over Texas shows the proper way to fly multiple countries flags. For perspective, I am behind the flags, looking toward the highway at the Texas Department of Transportation Information facility in Amarillo, Texas. The building is at my back, so the U.S. flag is on the right.

The six flagpoles are equal in height and size, flying flags that are similar in size, as well. The poles aren’t in a straight line, but form a gentle curve from one end to the other. This pole configuration makes it easy to fly many flags correctly. The U.S flag is to its own right, with the other flags in the order they flew over the area that is now the State of Texas.

Flag Code for Above Examples

Here are excerpts from Section 7 of the code.

(e) The flag of the United States of America should be at the center
and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States
or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from


(f) When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of
societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United
States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are
flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be
hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed
above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s


(g) When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be
flown from separate staffs of the same height.


Equipped with the information in the U.S. Flag Code, it is easy to see the problems with each of the above examples. The problem isn’t necessarily with the person who put up the flags, but with the flagpoles themselves. Bad pole design and installation causes many of the flag flying problems faced every day.

How Should Flagpoles be Situated?

What recommendations do I have for proper installation of your flagpoles if you are looking at this now? The simple answer is, "It depends." It depends on what flags you want to fly, now and in the future.

The way I see it, there are two configurations for flagpoles that are sure-fire in flying the flags properly.

  1. Install one large pole to fly the U.S. flag and another flag, not International in origin.
  2. Install multiple poles, the same height, in a straight line, parallel to the building.

This makes current and future flag flying easy to get right. With one pole, the U.S. flag always flies at the peak, with additional flags in the proper order underneath. (But remember, you cannot fly the flag of another country underneath (or above) the U.S. flag on only one pole.)

Multiple poles of equal height in a straight line, allow for the U.S. flag at its own right, with subsequent flags lining up to the left in proper order. I would only recommend multiple poles if you must fly more than two flags. For instance, if you fly the U.S. flag, your state flag, a city flag, and the POW/MIA flag, and maybe a company flag. Flying all of these on equal height poles in the proper order is the easiest solution to your flag dilemma.

The Flag’s Own Right

Flag Position Outdoors In the opening to Section 7 the phrase … the flag’s own right describes the U.S. flag position. What is meant by the flag’s own right? Let me explain from two perspectives of view.

If you are flying the U.S. flag and your state flag in front of your home or business you can determine the correct position for the flags from two perspectives.

If you are inside the building looking out the front door at the poles, the American flag flies on the right pole with the state flag on the left pole.

If you are standing on the sidewalk looking back at the flags with the building behind them, the U.S. flag will be on the left and the state flag on the right. The graphic shows how the flags should appear on the property if two flags are flown on adjacent poles.

It’s all about the perspective. 

What if you don’t have any of these awkward situations to deal with, but just want to fly the flag correctly? Why is the U.S. Flag Code so confusing? That’s the topic for the next installment in this series.

6 Responses to “Why is it so hard to fly the U.S. flag right? Part II”

  1. Brian Cowan says:

    No such flag or pennant may be placed
    above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s

    I must assume that you are referring to Orginazational pennants and not the CHURCH pennant, which flies above the US Flag during services.

  2. You are correct, Brian. The part of the U.S. Flag Code you refer to is Section 7(c) which states:

    (c) No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the
    same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America,
    except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when
    the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services
    for the personnel of the Navy.

    Since the article was about flagpole placement, I omitted that reference in the Flag Code. For those on land, the Christian flag always flies equal to or below the U.S. flag using the U.S. Flag Code as the guide.

    NTP 13(B) (Naval Telecommunications Procedures: Flags, Pennants and Customs) is the U.S. Navy’s guideline for flying the U.S. flag and other service flags. It is the most comprehensive military flag flying guide of all the branches of service and is a whole other conversation.

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  4. daniel montana says:

    there is an argument among local veterans groups on how flags should line up in a parade situation. I maintain; U.S., State, Veteran Post (ie: VFW, Legion, Amvets), POW-MIA. Am I correct in this? Please save us from embarrassment.

  5. Daniel, the line-up you have suggested is correct, with some qualifications. From the right-most position going forward: U.S. flag, state flag, and VSOs (veterans service organizations). The VSOs are ordered based on the dates of their congressional charters. The American Legion was chartered before the VFW, so AL goes first, then VFW. (If there are two or more posts of AL or VFW, then they would be sub-ordered by the dates of their local charter as appropriate.)

    Amvets was founded in 1948, although the date of their charter may be later—-I could not quickly find a date for their charter, but most likely, it predates the National League of Families [ ... ]. So the Amvets flag would come after the VFW, and before the POW-MIA flag.

    The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia received its congressional charter in 1970, and is a VSO on equal standing with all other VSOs. The League is a non-profit, tax-exempt, 501(3)(c) humanitarian organization, funded by contributions from the families, veterans, and other Americans.

    While the POW-MIA flag has been given great honor and respect, the laws that apply to it are for specific days and apply to federal installations only (that doesn’t prevent civilians from flying the flag of course, but that our only guidelines address federal usage and are so ordered by the protocol and etiquette long-established by the U.S. State Department which uses the dates of congressional order of charter.)

    If you had Vietnam Veterans of America also marching, they have the least oldest charter and would be on the end, for example.

    I hope this helps Daniel. You are welcome to phone me also, if you have more questions. 830-899-4464 and I am in Texas.

    Best Wishes and thank you for writing.
    Deborah Hendrick

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