OPINION: Half-Staff or Half-Baked?

By Dee Armstrong

One day this week, I pulled into the Bigfork Post Office and saw the flag at half-staff. With a Google search, I discovered the President had ordered it.

I’m sure some may not like what I’m about to write, but I’m shocked that our American flag was flying at half-staff in response to the victims of the Virginia Beach shooting.

Please, the flag at half-staff is not protocol for victims. Think about it. The flag would be at half-staff continually if that was the criteria for this special configuration. There are many victims of deadly crimes every day in this country, and not just killed by guns. Stabbings, torture, beatings, strangulation—you get the picture. How do their families feel when those victims aren’t similarly honored? It’s awful to think of all the daily and deadly killings, but it’s reality. Is there a set measurement that establishes one deadly crime’s victims to be worthy of half-staff and not another? What’s the magic number of fatalities? How many must die at one time to order the flag flown at half-staff?

Am I being disrespectful to victims and their families? How do I know how it feels to lose a loved one to a heinous crime? I know. My sister was murdered. No half-staff for her. And that’s the way it should be.

Right from the Veterans Administration:

Flying the American Flag at Half Staff

The flag is not lowered for the individual soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, as much as I’d like it that way. They die serving their country. They are heroes, not victims.  “On Memorial Day the flag should be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon only, then raised briskly to the top of the staff until sunset, in honor of the nation’s battle heroes.”

The protocol continues to explain that the flag is also lowered for the passing of “a member or former member of the federal, state or territorial government…” They too have served their country. I may not agree with some politicians having “honorably” served their constituents, but I’m trying to stay focused on protocol.

I understand that the Commander in Chief can and should proclaim a time of national mourning, and that’s a good thing. However, I believe he shouldn’t order the flag be flown at half-staff for such tragedies. Well-established and honored flag protocol dictates when the flag should be lowered to half-staff.

From my research, states can and have flown a lowered flag at the discretion of the governor. I can hope that decision is based on honoring individual fallen military servicemembers who are native sons. In consideration of states’ rights, flag protocol says nothing about when a governor must or must not issue the half-staff order.

The victims of heinous crimes, God bless their souls, became victims through no choice of their own. That goes for those who died on September 11th  (although some were military but were victims then) as well as many other victims of many other deadly crimes. Flying our flag at full staff for those victims should remind us that our country is at full strength, that we can recover and cope as long as we remain strong—as a country.  

Victim or hero? Our military service members choose to serve and often die for our great nation. Now and historically, they ensure our country’s strength. They are not victims. They are heroes.

As leaders, the president, governor, county commissioner, and mayor have the responsibility to bring together Americans with proclamations of grief and solemn ceremonies for such horrible tragedies.

But the flag? I believe the flag should remain full staff in times of civilian tragedy, to maintain American tradition, to respect protocol, and to honor our heroes—not our victims. By breaking protocol in response to a criminal act, applying personal discretion, and creating dynamic criteria as we go, we dilute the tribute.

Be safe, stay informed, and thanks for reading!

© 2019 Dee Armstrong All Rights Reserved, Email Dee: deeinmontana1949@gmail.com

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One Reply to “OPINION: Half-Staff or Half-Baked?”

  1. Kelleigh Nelson

    Well, personally I fully agree with you. Remember when Obama lowered the flag half mast when Whitney Houston died of a drug overdose? I was appalled, but then when our former Ambassador, Shirley Temple Black passed on, he never lowered the flag.

    These presidents need to read proper American flag protocol…too many of them are stupid. I never served in the military but I had plenty of family who did, including my father, and I was taught flag protocol.

    Great job Dee!

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