Debating the Protocols of Flag Day
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Today is Flag Day. On June 14, 1777, the Stars and Stripes were officially adopted as the flag of the United States. It's a holiday about a symbol. And in at least a dozen states, that symbol is being used in a new way and there's some controversy.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Since 2003, in Michigan, the flag has been lowered to half staff on each day that a serviceman or woman from that state was killed in action is buried. The idea was sparked by one death, that of Jason Wright. The 19-year-old was killed in Iraq. His uncle, Kim Wright, asked his boss at the state agency if the flag could be lowered in the young man's honor.
Mr. KIM WRIGHT: (Relative of Iraq Soldier): Of course because we're a state office, he said, we can't just do that on our own. We have to check with Lansing to see if we could do that.
SIEGEL: The supervisor had surprising success.
Mr. WRIGHT: Shortly after that, we found out that they had made a resolution to lower the flags for all of the servicemen from Michigan that were killed in action.
SIEGEL: Monday was the 72th time U.S. flags in Michigan were lowered to honor the death of an American soldier, but there's sharp disagreement about this. Some see it as a political statement about the war in Iraq. Kim Wright says that was not his intention.
Mr. WRIGHT: There was nothing political about it. I just thought it was a way of honoring my nephew.
NORRIS: Among those who do object is Second World War veteran Walter McVeigh. The 81-year-old from Grand Rapids says it's unfair to service men and women who died in previous wars. Plus, he says, it's unnecessary.
Mr. WALTER MCVEIGH (WWII veteran): Twice a year we honor the living veterans on Veterans Day and the ones that have deceased on Memorial Day.
NORRIS: Nonetheless, this idea has taken hold in states as varied as Connecticut, California, Minnesota and New Mexico. Connie Kaminski successfully championed the move in Illinois. She's an anti-war activist with four relatives who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ms. CONNIE KAMINSKI (Anti-war activist): A lot of times anti-war activists are accused of not supporting the troops. And I think that this is an excellent way to show that indeed we do support the troops.
NORRIS: There are others who say this is really all about politics and that this is more of an anti-war gesture. What do you say those who say that?
Ms. KAMINSKI: I would agree with them. Absolutely. It's going to shed light on the war. And I want that to happen. I want people to know what this war is costing us. It's costing us lives.
NORRIS: Kaminski is now trying to convince Missouri to dip the flag, but a spokesman for Governor Matt Blunt says the governor doesn't have the authority.
SIEGEL: Marc Leepson is author of Flag: An American Biography.
Mr. MARC LEEPSON (Author): The U.S. Flag Code addresses half staff, but the flag code is a series of guidelines. It's, there are no flag police. You're not going to get arrested for violating the flag code.
SIEGEL: If a governor should choose to order the flag flown at half staff for the death of every serviceman or woman from that state, or for that matter from any state, that's legit?
Mr. LEEPSON: It depends how you interpret the flag code. I would interpret it as saying it is legit. I would interpret it as saying that it's never inappropriate to fly the flag at half staff to honor someone who's died.
SIEGEL: Some people, as we've heard, have seen in lowering the flag an act of protest.
Mr. LEEPSON: Well, you know if you're speaking of how has the flag been used as far as in conjunction with war or anti-war sentiment, for the first time during the Vietnam War, Americans used the flag to protest the war. And I think that the flag has a way of bringing out emotions. And wars have a way of bringing out some of the controversial ways that Americans deal with the American Flag.
SIEGEL: That's Marc Leepson, author of Flag: An American Biography. Michigan and at least a dozen other states mark the deaths of local servicemen and women in combat by lowering U.S. flags to half staff.
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