For 142 years, Americans have taken the last Monday in May to remember those who have died in our wars. Like all deaths honored by the state, flags fly at half-staff. However, on Memorial Day, the U.S. flag only flies at half-staff for the first half of the day, and then is raised to full height from noon to sundown. This unique custom honors the war dead for the morning, and living veterans for the rest of the day.
No one knows the exact date this tradition began, but an Army regulations book from 1906 carries instructions for the procedure, so it predates the 20th Century, said Clark Rogers, executive director of the National Flag Foundation. In 1924, Congress codified the tradition into U.S. Code Title 4, Section 6, with the proclamation, “For the nation lives, and the flag is a symbol of illumination,” explaining how the noon flag-raising symbolizes the persistence of the nation in the face of loss, Rogers told Life’s Little Mysteries.
“The first part of the day honors those who sacrificed, and the second part of the day honors those who are still with us,” Rogers said.