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Fargo veteran: Half-staff has gone too far

Flags fly at half-staff Wednesday at Hector International Airport in Fargo in honor of the Colorado shooting victims.

FARGO -- The U.S. flag is being lowered to half-staff far too often, says Terry Richardson, commander of United Patriot Bodies, the umbrella group for the Fargo-Moorhead area's veteran's organizations.

The honor has been cheapened by almost cavalier use, Richardson said Wednesday.

Most recently, President Barack Obama on Friday ordered U.S. flags lowered to half-staff until Wednesday in mourning of those killed by a gunman in an attack at a Colorado movie theater.

It was an order mirrored by governors across the country, including Govs. Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota and Mark Dayton of Minnesota.

"Probably the worst one was (for) Whitney Houston. I don't know. She wasn't a veteran," Richardson said. "It seems to be getting more common nowadays. It seems like the governors are just popping out with this all of a sudden."

In Houston's case, the governor of New Jersey made the order to honor the pop singer, who died in February.

Richardson is of two minds in the case of lowering the flag for the theater shootings. He doesn't support the half-staff honor for tragedies that occur across the country daily, but he said the theater shooting may be an exception.

"This one here, I can understand it somewhat, because there was a couple of veterans killed trying to save people," Richardson said.

There are rules?

According to usflag.org, the Flag Code was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on June 22, 1942, and enacted by Congress that year.

There are no fines or penalties in the Flag Code and law enforcement can do nothing when it is broken. It is a guide to be followed voluntarily to ensure respect for the flag.

Among the rules for flying the U.S. flag at half-staff are:

- On Memorial Day, the flag is displayed at half-staff from sunrise to noon, then raised to the top of the staff.

- It is at half-staff all day on Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15), Patriot Day (Sept. 11), and Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (Dec. 7.)

- It is also half-staff during National Fire Prevention Week, but that requires the president to make a proclamation declaring the day.

- By order of the president, the flag is flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the U.S. government and the governor of a state, territory or possession.

- In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is displayed at half-staff per presidential instructions, or in accordance with customs or practices not inconsistent with the law.

- Governors can order the flag lowered for the death of present or former government officials of that state, and any members of the Armed Forces from that state who dies while serving on active duty. The mayor of the District of Columbia has that same power.

The code also lays out how long the flag shall remain at half-staff for various dignitaries: 30 days on the death of a president or former president and 10 days for the death of the vice president, speaker of the house or chief justice or retired chief justice of the Supreme Court.

'A sacred honor'

The honor is degraded when bestowed on a dead pop singer or for deaths by tornadoes or random attacks, Richardson said.

"They do not merit the lowering of the flag. You've got to remember that the flag is our national symbol, the most important symbol of the United States. We've got the code. Follow the code," he said.

Jason Hicks, commander of Dilworth Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, agrees.

"A Medal of Honor winner, when they die, they don't get the flag half-staff," Hicks said.

"Quite often, we see the flags at half-staff more than not. This (last instance) has been since last Friday. I think it has been overused from what the original intent was," Hicks said.

A spokeswoman for Dalrymple's office said determining when to lower flags to half-staff is a sensitive issue. And the state has guidelines for it, said the spokeswoman, Jody Link.

For instance, the governor may order flags lowered for a state political leader, such as when former Gov. Art Link or state Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem died, or when a soldier is killed in a war zone, she said.

In the most recent case, Dalrymple followed the presidential proclamation, Link said.

"It's very difficult. You want to honor those that have served, those who have sacrificed," Link said. "It is a sacred honor when that flag is lowered."

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