Blogs > Cliopatria > The Flag of Eternal Mourning

Jan 3, 2005 8:35 pm


The Flag of Eternal Mourning



The flag at the Post Office was at half mast this morning. When I got to my office, I looked up the reason why. It turned out that President Bush ordered this in response to the dead from the Tsunami last week.

I have no problem with that. Horror on this scale deserves some ceremonial mourning. But it led me to look for an answer to a question that has nagged at me this past year. How often have we had the flag at half mast in the past year?

The President, governors, mayors, and county administrators can each order their respective facilities to fly flags at half mast. In Wisconsin, the governor has ordered flags at half mast every time a Wisconsin soldier has been killed. The governor’s orders also apply to local government, but local governments have some power here too. As an example, the mayor or Rice Lake ordered that city flags be flown at half mast after those hunters were killed just before Thanksgiving.

Happily, Wisconsin Governor Doyle’s web site did have some nice search results. It listed 34 times that the governor ordered flags at state facilities lowered in 2004 and 2005. The first was on February 3. As he (and I assume other governors) also issued orders to state facilities to comply with presidential proclamations (see this one as an example) I think I can safely assume that these orders include all the presidential proclamations as well as state ones. Thus, with the exception of the occasional local order, such as the deer hunter one mentioned above, this should be a complete list for Wisconsin.

They have not all been about the war. There is always an order for Memorial Day. Several concerned Wisconsin police and fire personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty. Ronald Reagan’s death and the Discovery crash combined to lower the flag for 35 days, which surpassed the number of days it was lowered to honor Wisconsin’s dead soldiers.

So, not including local tragedies, Wisconsin’s flags were at half mast for roughly 68 days out of 368. That result surprised me. It has seemed more like every second or third day that I have seen a flag lowered and wondered what had happened; not one out of every six days.

Still, that’s an average of just over a day a week in mourning.

That’s a lot of pain.

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