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The tradition of flying a flag at half-staff began in the 17th century. Sometimes you'll hear "half-mast" but that is reserved for usage aboard a ship. The president can issue an executive order for the flag to be flown at half-staff, often upon the death of a notable figure or because of a tragic event. When such an order is issued, all government buildings, military bases, schools and offices are to lower their flags half-staff.
Why are other flags flown at half-staff? Because no flag can be placed above the flag of the United States. Governors of U.S. states and territories can also order U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff, often when a member of the armed forces dies in active duty or when a current or former state official dies.
Learn more about the flag and Flag Dayopens a new window, a day that celebrates that red, white and blue.
Read about flag code and etiquetteopens a new window.