ROTC officials: Americans unknowingly mistreat the flag

Kilby School students Riley Webb (left), Colton Persell and William Watson raise both the American and Alabama state flags. There are certain rules how the flag is displayed, said ROTC Recruiting Operations Officer Jose Atencio.

by News Editor Anna Brown

The American flag has long been a symbol of freedom and honor, but are Americans giving it the honor it is due?

As Veterans Day approaches, it is important for Americans to correctly display the flag in honor of those who served in the military.

ROTC Recruiting Operations Officer Col. Jose Atencio said he fears many Americans mistreat the flag.

“By taking an oath of office in the army, I support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Atencio said. “Part of that Constitution, the symbol of our country, is our American flag.”

Atencio said the flag is unknowingly mistreated by hanging it incorrectly, wearing the actual flag as a piece of clothing or flying a dingy, worn flag.

“(People) like to run around draped in (the flag),” Atencio said. “They think it’s patriotic to do that. It’s great to be patriotic, but being patriotic is also (being respectful) when it comes to how you handle the flag.”

Senior Zach Wright said he heard wearing an actual flag as clothing is inappropriate, but he said wearing clothing with an American flag photo is fine.

Atencio said one of the most common ways people fly the flag incorrectly is hanging it vertically with the blue field, or union, on the right side of the flag. The union should always be on the left side of the flag when displayed vertically, he said.

Another common error Americans make is flying a weather-worn flag, Atencio said.

“A lot of times, what you will start seeing is a dingy gray on the colors from pollution,” he said. “You ought to try to keep the colors as brilliant as possible. There’s nothing that I’m aware of that talks about a set shade, but you can tell when it’s time to replace the flag with a new one.”

Atencio said many local cleaners will clean flags for free. Regularly cleaning a flag improves its longevity, enabling it to fly longer, he said.

Coleman Cleaners and Laundry on Tennessee Street cleans American flags for free.

When the flag becomes tattered, extremely faded or otherwise unrepresentable, the owner should dispose of it at a local Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion post, Atencio said.

It is very disrespectful to throw the flag in the garbage, he said.

“Many of people don’t understand this, but we do burn flags,” Atencio said. “That is a proper way of disposal that is done with reverence and respect.”

During a flag-burning ceremony, the flag is presented, and military officials perform ceremonial readings and talk about the history of the flag.

Officials then burn the flag and its ashes are disposed properly.

There is no law against flying the flag 24 hours a day, Atencio said.

United States Federal Law says owners must illuminate the flag properly if it is flown during hours of darkness.

The law also states owners should not fly the flag during storms. However, the owner can fly a special weather flag during bad weather conditions.

“Most times when you have a cotton flag, you should take it down during a storm so it won’t get lost or ripped,” he said. “Personally, I would always take down the flag during storms.”

Wright said he thinks it is an American duty to take care of the flag.

“While it may be a protester’s right to disrespect a flag, to stomp on it, to burn it, to fly it upside down, (I think) they forget they disrespect the men and women who have given everything so that they can be disrespectful,” he said.

ROTC cadet and senior Melanie Mather said she thinks Americans should be careful in how they handle the flag.

“As a cadet it does bother me when people don’t treat it the way it should,” Mather said. “I don’t necessarily believe in everything our government is doing, but the flag and what it represents still deserves the respect.”