Today is Memorial Day, a day during which we remember the fallen and reflect on their sacrifices. We honor those soldiers from all military branches who answered the call to defend and protect, and paid with their lives.
As I watched footage of President Obama at the annual ceremony at Arlington Memorial Cemetery, I was struck once again at how little people know about what is expected and when. I have attended several similarly solemn ceremonies, including last year’s dedication to the new Purple Heart Memorial at our local Memorial Park (our troop volunteered to represent the local Girl Scouts), and we made sure the girls knew what to do. Here’s a little recap:
Saluting the flag
When the flag passes by, all should turn toward it and salute. Anyone not in uniform salutes by placing their right hand flat on their chest, right over the heart. (Military personnel, both male and female, not in uniform may tender the salute appropriate for armed forces personnel.) Men wearing hats first remove their headgear with the right hand and place it over their shoulder, so that the right hand is still over the hat.
The Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem
The Pledge of Allegiance, ((The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States is:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”))which all citizens should know and recite at the appropriate time, should be said while saluting the flag in the manner described above (i.e. standing, facing the flag, right hand over the heart).
During the National Anthem ((Forgot the lyrics? Try this Scouts Songs page. You’ll note that the entire song is actually quite a bit longer that what is usually sung, which is the reason I have chosen this page. Only the first verse of the poem is sung as “The Star Spangled Banner”, though the actual words “star spangled banner” don’t show up until the second verse.)), citizens should stand at attention either facing the flag if there is one present, or facing the singer wherever possible. ((Reference: UsFlag.org.))) (If you find yourself in a place that is simply piping the anthem over a sound system, the best policy, although not officially described, is probably to stand at attention facing forward.) Either way, the salute should begin at the first note and continue throughout the entire song. And yes, by all means, feel free to sing along or, if you don’t feel comfortable singing, go ahead and mouth the words. Be prepared for the final line, however, where many invited singers feel moved to improvise and elaborate on the melody of what is already one of the most complex songs ((You can read more about the history of the song on Wikipedia; it’s a very interesting article.))ever.
It is interesting to note that non citizens are not expected to salute (as they have taken no pledge to honor the country, let alone the flag which stands for it, nor are they granted the kind of automatic respect the country offers citizens), but common courtesy expects them to at least stand up quietly out of respect. So if you are visiting from another country, or working or studying as a foreign student, for instance, please show the same kind of respect you would want others to show in your own country: as far as I can tell, most countries have similar rules of etiquette ((See for instance A Malaysian Abroad for a quick look at the etiquette in Malaysia)).
It is interesting to note that the flag is NEVER to be worn as gear, which makes it’s use as a poncho, tablecloth, or advertising illegal, according to Section 8d ((See these examples of flag violations in the news)) of the Flag Code ((Read the entire flag code)):
The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
The Star Spangled Banner is and always has been one of my favorite songs. It’s lyrics draw a very strong picture in my head: I can see the “bombs bursting in air”, the “rocket’s red glare”, and can almost feel the “proof through the night that the flag was still there”. Thanks to a book of patriotic songs my mom had when I was a child, I learned the lyrics and melody of a great many American patriotic songs, including “America the Beautiful”, and more folksy tunes such as “Oh Susannah”. I have to say, in my mind, The Star Spangled Banner is absolutely one of the best anthems in the world: lyrically, it’s a beautiful and very poetic song; musically, it is one of the most complex, a real challenge for any singer; patriotically, the images it draws in the air seem to me very rousing, and every American should sing it with a great deal of pride, because it sings to the bravery, dedication, and conviction of men of ages past who sought to create a nation that would be strong, respectful, democratic, and independent. The men (and, later, the women) it sings about have answered the call, most of them voluntarily, to risk their lives for the ideals of their country, doing what they thought was right. I happen to be a pacifist, but I’m also realistic: we are not yet living in a world blessed with “World peace”, though some day we might be. No, we will be, and when that happens, we will still have people who’s natural inclination is to protect and defend, because conflict will always emerge, as there will always be those whose natural inclination is seek domination of some sort.
May those with that drive always be blessed.