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A.J. Dennis, 77, of Silver Creek, Washington, died Dec. 18, 2014, after a long illness.
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6/14/2014
Old Glory

It happened in elementary school.

Students stood next to their desks, placed their right hand over their hearts, looked at the flag in front of the classroom and pledged allegiance to the United States of America.

In that early morning tradition, students began to learn not only the Pledge of Allegiance, but proper respect and behavior toward the flag.

From elementary school, the lesson continued to sporting events — basketball, baseball, football and the like, with presentation of the colors as part of a ceremonial start.

And after school days, students observed that the flag held a place of honor in other public buildings and ceremonies.

Then, and now, the flag occupies a place of honor.

The flag is featured in Fourth of July parades. It has inspired hope on the battlefield, as Francis Scott Key noted during the Revolutionary War in 1814 when he wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner." It has been lowered to honor more than one elected official who has sacrificed to serve the public.

It has been the source of much debate in American courtrooms as to whether students should be required to salute it. To date, the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with the constitutionality of showing such respect.

As most elementary students know, too, it was Betsy Ross who sewed the first U.S. flag. While the flag had been 13 alternating red and white stripes with the British Union Jack in the upper left-hand corner, Ross redesigned it to feature the same stripes, but replaced the Union Jack with a circular design of 13 stars, representing the colonies, on a field of blue. As the nation expanded and the number of states increased, stars were added to the flag until it had 50.

For many students, an education on proper flag etiquette hasn't extended much beyond saluting the flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Once out of school, the daily display of respect isn't required.

But a raft of rules apply to the flag, according to Veterans of Foreign Wars, one of the veterans groups that counts its membership from the nation's armed services, where the flag is held in high regard.

For example, when the U.S. Coast Guard presents the flag in Ketchikan's Fourth of July Parade, the U.S. flag will be to the marchers' right.

When saluting the flag, those in uniform render the military salute. Members of the armed forces and veterans who are present, but not in uniform, will render the military salute as well. Everyone else should face the flag, stand at attention with their right hand over their heart, and if a man is wearing a hat, he should remove it with his right hand and hold it at his left shoulder, leaving his hand over his heart.

The U.S. flag flies above all other flags on a single staff. When grouped together, the U.S. flag is to the right of the others, and when it is displayed on a speaker's platform, it must be above and behind the speaker. It is on the speaker's right if it is mounted on a staff. Over a street, the stars are to face north or east, depending on the direction of the street.

On Memorial Day, the U.S. flag is to be flown at half-staff until noon and then to be raised. It also is flown at half-staff on other special days. It shouldn't be allowed to touch the ground and never should be flown upside down — unless to signal an emergency.

The flag shouldn't be carried flat, according to the VFW. Nor should items be carried in it. It shouldn't be used as clothing or as a cover. It should be kept clean, allowed to fall free instead of being tied back, and never should be marked on.

When a flag is to be disposed, flag etiquette includes steps for proper disposal: It should be folded in its customary manner. It should be burned in a fire, where those present will stand at attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and observe a period of silent reflection. When the flag has been consumed and the fire is extinguished, the ashes should be buried.

Local veterans groups, including the VFW, often will assist with the disposal of flags.

Today, as the nation marks Flag Day, it's appropriate to reflect upon Old Glory and the respect it should be accorded as a symbol of this great nation of Americans.