Why are flags half-staff for part of the day on Monday, May 31? Flags are half-staff because President Joe Biden issued a national half-staff proclamation for Memorial Day. In addition to Biden’s national order, a number of states have their own proclamations in place. Here’s a look at the people who are being honored across the country with lowered flags:
Flags Are at Half-Staff Nationwide for Memorial Day
President Joe Biden signed a national proclamation to lower flags for Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels. Flags are to fly half-staff today from sunrise until noon. In addition, an hour of prayer and reflection is taking place at 11 a.m. local time, along with a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time.
Biden said in his half-staff proclamation:
On Memorial Day, we honor and reflect upon the courage, integrity, and selfless dedication of the members of our Armed Forces who have made the greatest sacrifice in service to our Nation. Whether in the waters of the Pacific, on the beachheads of Europe, in the deserts of the Middle East, or in the mountains of Afghanistan, American service members have given their lives to uphold our Constitution and to defend the safety and freedoms of our citizens. These patriots embody the best of the American spirit. They put themselves on the line for our shared values — for duty, honor, country — and they paid the ultimate price. Our Nation can never fully repay the debt we owe to our fallen heroes and their families.
Jill and I know what it means to have a child serving in a war zone — the ever-present concern for your loved one and their fellow service members. Today and every day, we ask God to protect our troops. We also recognize the tremendous loss endured by America’s Gold Star families — the families of military members who died in conflict. We have a sacred obligation as a Nation to support those families and to always honor the memories of their loved ones.
That is the vow we make each year on Memorial Day. Our Nation will never forget the courage and patriotism demonstrated by the countless women and men who laid down their lives so that we may continue to pursue a more perfect Union and to protect the unalienable rights Americans hold dear. They came from every part of the country, of every background and belief, united by a shared belief in our uniquely American creed — that all people are created equal. We will honor their legacy by continuing our work to live up to that commitment and to advance the values they lived and died to defend. We will continue to fight for equity and inclusion in our country and institutions, and ensure every qualified American who is willing to serve our country — regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or background — has a fair and equal opportunity to do so.
We will continue to honor our fallen service members through the actions of a new generation who volunteer to serve in uniform, who anchor our military to our democratic values, and who stand ready to deter aggression from our enemies and, if required, fight and defend our Nation. Today — as we keep true to the memory of our fallen heroes — we will endeavor to meet their legacy and once more lead the world through the power of our example and not just the example of our power.
As our Nation’s service members continue to risk their lives to protect our homeland and thwart our enemies, we must not lose sight of our desire for enduring peace. Every day, countless Americans pray and work for peace so that we may one day live in a world where American patriots need not make the ultimate sacrifice, and where all people live in freedom and prosperity. As a Nation, we are grateful to the brave members of our Armed Services — both past and present — who have forged the legacy for that possibility.
In honor and recognition of all of our fallen service members, the Congress, by a joint resolution approved May 11, 1950, as amended (36 U.S.C. 116), has requested that the President issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer and reflection. The Congress, by Public Law 106-579, has also designated 3:00 p.m. local time on that day as a time for all Americans to observe, in their own way, the National Moment of Remembrance.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Memorial Day, May 31, 2021, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at 11:00 a.m. of that day as a time when people might unite in prayer and reflection. I urge the press, radio, television, and all other information media to cooperate in this observance. I further ask all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.
I request the Governors of the United States and its Territories, and the appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff until noon on this Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout the United States and in all areas under its jurisdiction and control. I also request the people of the United States to display the flag at half-staff from their homes for the customary forenoon period.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.
JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR
States Have Also Lowered Their Flags in Honor of Others Who Have Died
Some states have had their own proclamations to remember those who have died.
In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called for state buildings to fly their flags at half-staff on Sunday, May 30 to honor all essential workers who lost their lives to COVID-19. State landmarks will also be lighted red, white, and blue. Flags were called to remain at half-staff until noon on May 31, along with landmarks remaining lit on May 31 for Memorial Day to honor service members who lost their lives.
In Pennsylvania, a flag order has been in place since April 7, 2020. It is in place for an indefinite period of time and includes commonwealth facilities, public grounds and public buildings. The order will last until the pandemic is over.
Governor Tom Wolf said when issuing the order:
Already we have lost friends, parents, grandparents, and siblings. We have lost first responders. We have lost community members. Each of these Pennsylvanians is irreplaceable. Each deserves to be honored individually for their contributions to our commonwealth, but this cruel disease will not give us a respite to mourn. This virus prevents us from honoring the dead at traditional gatherings. We cannot have funerals, wakes, or sit shiva. I hope this flag lowering provides some solace to the grieving families and friends. And, I hope it serves as a reminder of the reason for the sacrifices Pennsylvanians are making to help their community survive this crisis.
Flag Half-Staff Traditions
It’s customary to only display the American flag from sunrise to sunset unless the flag is well illuminated overnight. In those cases, the flag might be displayed 24 hours a day. A number of holidays call for U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff every year. In addition, the president of the United States may order a proclamation for the flags to fly half-staff when someone of prominence dies or when there is a national tragedy. State governors may also call for national flags to be flown at half-staff in their state when a present or former government official dies.
If you’re wondering about the terms half-mast versus half-staff, in the United States half-mast refers to flags being lowered on a ship, while half-staff refers to a pole on the ground or a building, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command’s blog The Sextant. However, outside the United States, the more commonly used term is actually half-mast, according to The Sextant. The terms tend to be used interchangeably in common vernacular.