Parade Flag Etiquette

Everyone loves a parade. The floats, fire engines, bands and other community presentations make parades of all kinds a community celebration.

In most cases, the participants in a parade are free to present themselves as they see fit — within the terms of the parade. Many groups, however, also display the American flag as part of their participation, whether they’re the local band, VFW or police force.

For these groups, making sure their parade flags follow proper etiquette is important. Following these key rules will make sure your participation, and not the way you displayed your flags, is remembered by the community.

The Joint Service Color Guard in Memorial Day Parade

The Color Guard

On patriotic occasions, a color guard should lead the parade, even before banners which mark the celebration. The parade organizers will select the people who serve in the color guard. They may be veterans, local figures or current local service people.

In the parade, the U.S. flag should be in one or two positions. Either Old Glory leads the parade alone, or it is placed at the right of the color guard while it faces forward. The U.S. flag, therefore, is to the left from an onlooker’s perspective. The flag should never be dipped to any other flag.

The flag may be joined by the state flag, service flags and organizational flags in the color guard. The state and service flags are best placed on the same line as the U.S. flag (or behind it if it marches solo). Organizational flags are better placed behind the line of national, state and service flags.

The state’s flag should be carried to the U.S. flag’s left. At parade rest, all flags may be slightly dipped, except for the U.S. flag.

If the flags of other nations are appropriately displayed in the parade, they should be to the immediate left of the U.S. flag, in alphabetical order. Then the state and service flags should follow.

Memorial Day at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

Service Flags

The service flags should be carried in a set order, based on the official age of the service. The Army flag is farthest to the right of the color guard, to the left of the national and state flags — again, determine left and right based on the line of the march.

To the left of the Army flag goes the Marine Corps flag. The Marine Corps flag comes before the Navy flag. The Marine Corps has declared by Commandant’s Order that it was founded on 10 November 1775. The Navy, meanwhile, has claimed a variety of founding dates but officially commissioned its first officers in December of 1775.

The Navy flag, therefore, is carried to the left of the Marine Corps flag. The Air Force and Coast Guard flags follow to its left, except when the Coast Guard is attached to the Navy in time of war.

Treating the Color Guard

As the Color Guard carrying the lead parade flags passes, spectators should acknowledge the flag appropriately. These demonstrations of respect should be given as the flag passes.

Members of the Armed Services present and in uniform render the military salute. Veterans — and members of the Armed Services not in uniform — may use the military salute or may respond as civilians.

The proper civilian response to the flag, whether President or a regular citizen, should be to stand at attention and place the right hand over the heart. If they wear a hat, the hat should be removed and held to the left shoulder — placing the hand on their heart.

Non-citizens indicate their respect by standing at attention.

The West side of the US Capitol Building as it is prepared for the 58th presidential inauguration ceremony

Other Flags Carried in Parade

The color guard leading the parade is the primary display of the flag in the moving parade line. Flags carried by follow-on groups do not carry the same primacy — although saluting appropriately never hurts.

If a group creating a float mounts a U.S. flag on that float, the flag should be on a pole, flying freely. It should never be draped on a part of the float.

If flags are hung on reviewing stands or outside buildings, the union or blue field with stars should be to the upper left as viewed by spectators.

At the end of some parades, the colors may be mounted around a podium for appropriate presentations and exercises. The U.S. flag goes into the stand farthest to the right of the podium, requiring the bearer to cross in front of the speaker to post colors.

Other flags are then posted in order. As with flag positioning in the parade, the audience should see the U.S. flag to the left of the flag array.

In some towns, flags may be hung over streets, from lines strung between buildings. The position of the union depends on the orientation of the street. For streets going north/south, the blue field should be to the east — on the left facing south. On streets going east/west, the union should be to the north or left when facing east.

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