Half Mast and Half Staff (by the Colonial Flag Foundation)

the custom of placing the flag at

half-staff for half mast actually began

at sea and it's such an old tradition

that it's really hard to determine

exactly how it began

but some indications are that many many

centuries ago when someone died aboard

ship they kind of let all of the lines

go a little bit loose all of the rigging

on the ship the sails were not placed

the way they should be even the masks

and the yardarms were a little bit of

skew and the flag was allowed to come

down partway from from where normally

flew and all of this together said hey

I'm morning I'm not feeling shipshape

today I'm not going forward I'm here

because I'm sad and so that continued

over the years so the tradition at sea

was called half-mast because that's

where the flag was displayed and it was

brought halfway down when the flag flew

at full staff or full mast it was up and

the ship was under way with the sails

full of the wind and all was well with

the world

if a ship had to be surrendered in

battle yes ensign was pulled all the way

down its flag and so that was defeat

mourning was kind of halfway in the

middle to say you know I'm I'm not

feeling good I'm sad I'm in mourning so

when this tradition came up shore the

flag was no longer placed on a mast but

rather on a flagpole or Flagstaff and so

the term changed and meaning to be

described as half-staff

so at sea its half-mast on land it's

half-staff according to the flag code

there are specific periods of time which

designated as morning with the flag at

half-staff for various federal officials

for instance say President of the United

States or former president it's 30 days

for some other individual it's from

death when they're buried the day of the

funeral governors have also been given

that authority to declare a period of

half-staff so when there is someone who

has died who is not on the list that

it's automatic then the president issues

presidential proclamation stating who

has died and and how why they're being

honored and what the period will be that

the flag is flown at half-staff a

governor can also do that there have

been instances where say a student at a

local high school dies and I don't think

it's inappropriate on the day of their

funeral if the cortege is passing by the

school to have the school's flag at

half-staff but just for that brief

period but normally speaking we fly the

flag at half-staff to show the entire

nation is mourning not just one

individual or one family when you place

a flag at half-staff it's important if

you're raising the flag at that time you

raise it all the way to the top of the

flagpole and then lower it to the

halfway point or to half-staff

and the reason you do that the top of

the Flagstaff is considered the point of

salute so you raise the flag to the top

of the pole to honor the flag and to

salute it and then bring it to

half-staff to show the morning at the

end when you're bringing the flag down

again you raised it all the way to the

top to salute the flag

and honor the flag and then it is