Half-Staff

Of the many memories I have of President Kennedy’s assassination, the most searing may be seeing flags at half-staff.

For 30 days, every American flag flew sadly, partway up its pole.  It was a powerful reminder of the tremendous loss our country suffered.

Flags flew at half-staff on similarly sad occasions — when presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Johnson died, for example.  I can’t remember any other time, when I was a teenager, that I saw flags that way.

Today, it seems, flags are almost permanently at half-staff.

The tribute is awarded to former police officers, firefighters and town employees, as well as every Connecticut resident killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In the soldiers’ cases, the flag remains at half-staff until after the burial.

I do not want to diminish anyone’s death — not the men and women who served our town, or those from our state who gave their lives serving our country.

But I can’t help wondering whether flying flags at half-staff so often doesn’t diminish their deaths in some way.  Most of the time, we don’t know who’s being honored.  There’s no one to tell us, so we ignore the symbolism.  Half-staff flags become part of the scenery.

I know many “06880” readers will disagree.  I’m not even sure I agree with myself.

But — in true American spirit — let the debate begin.

25 responses to “Half-Staff

  1. Warren Shapiro

    Dan,

    I totally agree. I think it’s about Americans needing to indulge, acknowledge, recognize, honor everything. The sentiment is a good one, but it ends up diminishing the titles and the “honors” that are “bestowed” upon people.

    For example, Real Estate agents are not called that anymore. Now they are “Real Estate Executives”. What’s next, Real Estate Neurosurgeons?

    You got five guys on a basketball team. How can you have “quad-captains”? What’s the fifth guy, a schmuck? Why not just make every player a captain? No more players, everyone is a captain. I can see it now, 44 guys running out for the coin toss before a football game, offense and defense from both teams. Everyone’s a captain!

    We just overdo everything in this country. We over indulge ourselves and our kids, we over spend, and even when we have good intentions we “over honor”. While it’s sad and every soldier who dies has made the ultimate sacrifice for his or her country and should be honored by family and friends and this country in the most respectful way possible. The fact remains that every soldier and policeman or fireman is not the president of the United States. This is not meant to be disrespectful. It’s just a fact! While we are all equals in this country, someone has to be in charge and that creates a certain degree of inequality, like it or not. Not all inequality is bad. Two people can not drive a car at the same time. Someone has to be the passenger! Not everyone can be the captain, let’s be realistic, one person needs to be the captain, or it makes the honor irrelevant. And the same is true of the flag. We need to honor our heros but we need to be honest with ourselves and with them. If not, we make the honors we bestow on them meaningless and in the process, even with good intentions, we disrespect their memory.

  2. Charlie Haberstroh

    Perhaps one of the reasons may be that during the Vietnam War I don’t believe that communities in general lowered their flags to half mast when a soldier in the community/state died. Does anyone have more specific memory of that?

    • The Dude Abides

      My mother headed up “Project Hope” in Westport during
      the Vietnam conflict. They sent packages every month to every serviceman,
      including me, who served in Southeast Asia for nearly six years. Five Westporters were killed during the “police action” with a high of 42 serving at one time. No information on the flag being flown at half staff for those fallen. Considering our welcome home, I would seriously doubt it. But Vietnam was certainly more publicized than today’s wars. They don’t even make the news any more. Sad.

      • Mr. Dude, don’t you watch the News Hour on PBS? Every week in SILENCE they show the names and hometowns and ages of each soldier who has died and where. My husband and I sit there quietly honoring each and every of the [mostly] young people who have given their lives. So yes, thankfully for PBS, they do make the news so we know who they are and can say a prayer of gratitude for their sacrifices.

  3. Maggie Feczko

    Dan,
    Although you may not agree with yourself, I do! When I see a flag at half-staff, I feel anxious and want to know who has died. If I ask people who I think should know, inevitably the answer is “I don’t know.” The symbol has become meaningless if there is no way to know who is being honored by lowering the flag.

  4. I remember a streach when I was in Bedford El when Eisenhower, Truman and someonelse died maybe MacArthur and the flag was at half staff for what seemed like months and there was an Executative order to curtail all the concurrent half staff flag flag flying for the moral of the country

  5. The big word that has been totally diminished is “hero”.I believe that word should be reserved for an action that is truly “above and beyond”.That is why we use the word heroic to describe that deed. It seems the downfall of the word “hero” happened as part of the Gulf War. For some reason, probably PR, everyone became a hero. NPR recently had a talk show on the word “hero”, and most veterans that responded felt the word had lost its true meaning.
    Unfortunately, in today’s “mega world” a truly heroic action will simply make that individual a “super hero’!

  6. Larry Perlstein

    I agree Dan. I wonder if kids today even notice the flags at half staff. And I recognize this may be a unpopular view but I feel that having flags up on the post road bridge year round falls into the same category (I know the storm took them down). I’d rather see them up for special occasion or limited periods of time such a Memorial Day through Sept 12.

  7. The Dude Abides

    Nice column with nonsensical comments but a good reminder that we are at WAR!!!! I keep a candle burning in my bay window every night to represent my hope that our soldiers find a safe way home. If the flag has to remain at half staff for people to remember that, so be it. For some reason, as the comments indicate (“honor,” “anxiety”, “hero,” “Truman”, “kids noticing”) there has to be some personal identity to the flag’s placement for them to relate to its message. Well try 69 dead last month in Afganistan. Try that on for size. Maybe if it was your kid, you wouldn’t be so callous and shallow!

    • My husband started keeping a candle burning in the front window ever since the Iraqi war started. Thought we’d see a lot around town, but we don’t.

      And I do wish you wouldn’t say such awful things to others who write, Dude. Makes me get shivers the way you always put others down. This was a good open discussion until you started calling names like “callous” and “shallow”.

  8. I agree with Dude. I actually think that all flags should be at half mast until this war is over! I think the fact that you keep a candle burning in your window is such a nice honor. I make sure to read the names of the soldiers who have died every day in the paper. I look at the names of their towns, and their ages, and try to picture them, and hold them awhile in my heart. I feel it is the least I can do for the people who have given their lives. They are all heroes in my book.

  9. Not only that, most tony country clubs do lower its flag to half-mast each time a member dies.

    Morbid as it seems, prospective members or those on the golf waiting list (long as ten years) cheer every time he or she sees a flag at half-mast. It means it’s a step closer to acceptance.

    • The Dude Abides

      Not to confuse the “Dude” with the “The Dude Abides,” but that may be the most repulsive example of elitism and lack of compassion I have ever heard. The PGA seems to be doing a lot of that recently. Perhaps that is where the clubs are getting their lead. On point, however, I do think that we citizens should be informed on why the flag is flying at half-staff instead of the endless stream of drivel they print or broadcast and label as so-called “news”.

  10. Sensible One

    I don’t really think that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are on the forefront of anyone’s mind these days unless you have a loved one over there, or if you have previously served. Peoples minds are on the stock market, plunging real estate values and of course, the dismal economy, and making ends meet.
    As the Dude knows, I support a soldier in Iraq through Fort Stewart in Georgia. We get regular updates so the war is never far from my mind. My own sponsored soldier is one of the last to be leaving Iraq and is expected to come home in December. I breathe a sigh of relief each and every time I get an email from him – and I am very lucky that he takes the time to let me know he’s okay. It is not easy over there and I feel humbled that I can actually make his life a little easier there with his favorite things from home. The least we can do is be respectful and welcome them home!

    • The Dude Abides

      Sensible One: You are correct in your assumption that the wars are not on people’s minds but did you ever think that our spending 16 billion dollars a month to fight in Iraq and Afganistan might have something to do with all the “woes” that you mention and most certainly, a major concern of our populus????? Osama wanted us to go after him and like idiots, we did. Instead of following the Jews lead with Munich 1972, we have to go full force and pretend we are nation building. Meanwhile, thousands of our troops are killed or maimed for life. As was with Vietnam, stupid. Thanks for what you do. I have a Marine I have adopted as well but without much feeback.

  11. The idea of country club lowering their US or state flag upon a member’s death is not only ridiculous, but illegal. Per US Code, only the President and Governors can authorize flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the death of an official or dignitary.
    And while we are at it, am I the only one that feels very ambivalent about the playing of “God Bless America” at sporting events, most noticeably at baseball games. People treat it as though it is the national anthem,( taking off their hats, putting their hands over their hearts, etc) when in fact there is no etiquette that even requires you to stand up for this. I am a patriotic American, but this is one case where perhaps we gone way too far.

    • Innocent Bystander

      Private clubs or individuals are not governed by executive order of any nature in regard to flying of the flag.

  12. Of course your instincts are correct, Dan. And if any of your readers get confused by reading comments to the contrary, I’d advise them to return to comment number one. Warren Shapiro has nailed it, honestly and thoughtfully.
    p.s. I’m a combat veteran who survived. But I honestly think that if I hadn’t, I would have been embarrassed at the thought of a flag at half-staff for me.

    • The Dude Abides

      Mr. Singer: You and Mr. Shapiro are old school whereby certain ceremonial observances were reserved for the aristocracy. Such habits have, in my opinion compassionately, been widely circulated to include the many and not the few. I feel this is a good trend for a new world. Thank you for your service.

  13. Sensible One

    Dude,
    Of course the 16 billion spent are part of the woes our country is experiencing at the moment – but I doubt that there are many people that really take that into consideration – I think , that they think, this is part of the whole “bill” of war. I don’t believe that most consider the actual cost of the war.
    And in some instances, don’t care – because it doesn’t affect them in a direct way. It only hits them with taxes. There is no direct correlation – I think that if we all got a bill from the Federal Government documenting what is actually spent on this war, and what we as individuals are obligated to pay that more people would be inclined to try to change the way our government does business.

    • The Dude Abides

      Sensible One: It costs one (1) million dollars to “deploy” a soldier to Afganistan. As pointed out, 16 million is spend monthly on the cost of these wars. The military budget is approximately 875 million dollars a year. This is about 1/4 of our total budget. I mean, these figures are readily available to the most casual observer. Personally, I think we have to bring back the “draft” to “personalize” these wars to our citizens for them to stop. An interesting sidenote (at least to me) is that college campuses were in total protest over Vietnam while the open draft was law. Once the lottery system was instituted, such protests subsided. It was very much the “me” generation as Mr.Singer so aptly describes even back then. But please remember, President Bush had us in the palm of his hands following 911 with a 90% approval rating. We would have sacrificed our SUV’s, gone on rationing, you name it. Instead, he said not to worry, go to a movie and watch out for the “color warnings.” For once, sadly, we did as we were told.

      • That would be $875 billion. The peace time draft is a direct assault on personal freedom. Why not bring back slavery? How about we just bring the troops home NOW. From everywhere; Korea, Germany, Iraq. Afghanistan, everywhere.

  14. The Dude Abides

    I stand corrected on the 875 billion. We are not in peacetime. We are at war. I wholeheartidly agree with your conclusion, however. We still have 15,000 Marines in Okinawa for God’s sake and ironically, the Japanese want it back. NOW is the time! Bring ’em home.

    • If we are at war, then our government should act as though we are. Thus far, we are traveling down the same path that brought us the stalemate in Korea, and the defeat in Vietnem. If Huntington is right, and you are right, then let’s get on with it and stop losing in increments.

  15. The Dude Abides

    In this war, how can we determine whether we are winning or losing????
    There is no absolute goal, no end game, no nothing but billions being spent by the military and kids dead or maimed for life.