Everything Michael Conner needed to know about flag etiquette he learned from his 1971 Boy Scout Handbook.
“I still have that copy,” the former professional Scouter says.
Fifty years later, Conner is now a husband and father. And he still treats the flag with the same respect and reverence he learned as a Scout.
Each morning, he places one of his 25 flags on the pole outside his home. Before dark, he removes the flag and carefully folds it the proper way. In rain, snow or other inclement weather, Conner removes the flag and stores it till the sun returns.
“In a word, it’s about respect,” the former Air National Guardsman says. “And one more word: thankfulness.”
Conner is a former camp staffer and former district executive from Terre Haute, Ind., part of what was previously called the Wabash Valley Council and is now the Crossroads of America Council.
For the past 14 years, Conner has lived in Castle Pines, Colo., where he has continued to dutifully display his American flag.
He’s even helped teach his neighbors about flag etiquette — in a friendly and courteous way, of course.
“One of the most common things that many people don’t know [about flag etiquette] is a simple one: that the flag should only be flown, generally, in daylight and clear weather. It goes up with daylight and goes down before dark, unless you shine a light on it,” Conner says. “One neighbor flew his flag 24 hours a day, and now he’s begun removing his flag overnight. So we’re making a little bit of progress.”
Three bits of advice from a flag advocate
While Conner has a fondness for his trusty 1971 Handbook, today’s Scouts can crack open their own resource to gain wisdom about flag etiquette. The section on flags starts on page 56 of the Scouts BSA Handbook.
Conner offers a few pieces of advice that applied back when he was a Scout and still hold true today:
- Do your best to learn the rules of respect for the flag. Nobody is perfect, and there’s no “flag police” that will cite you for a mistake. But by showing respect for the flag, “people will watch, and it will catch on,” Conner says. Today’s Scouts can use their Scouts BSA Handbook and even search the internet to find valuable resources.
- Let learning about the flag open new doors. When Scouts learn the history of our flag — its development, its predecessors, its creators — they will gain a better understanding of the complex story of America’s founding. “History is a treasure,” Conner says.
- Install a flagpole on your property. If you have somewhere to fly a flag at your own home, you can practice patriotism every day. And you can display more than just the American flag. It’s a great way to show state pride or school pride or even celebrate a holiday. Conner remembers that his grandparents proudly flew an American flag from the 30-foot pole at their farm. “Not everyone can install a flagpole, but for those who can, it is a special opportunity,” Conner says.
Growing his collection
Conner will never forget the first flag he received. It was a gift from Ed Pease, an active Scouting volunteer and Conner’s lifelong mentor.
Pease, an Eagle Scout and former member of U.S. Congress, sent Conner a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol. It was a gift Conner cherished not just for where the flag had flown but for whom had sent it.
“For decades, I have described Ed as my older brother and mentor. Perhaps that’s an understatement,” Conner says. “The truth is, he has been that and more to me, even at a distance. He has listened and helped me in some of the most difficult times of my life and has celebrated some of the best.”
Over the years, Conner’s flag collection has grown to about 25 pieces, including some that are no longer suitable for display.
“I’ve actually saved several flags that are now worn and no longer serviceable,” he says. “I’m ready to turn them over to a local Scout troop for proper retirement.”
Conner owns the tricolor flag of Ireland he displays on St. Patrick’s Day to honor his Irish roots, an Indianapolis 500 checkered flag he flies on race day in a nod to his home state, and a number of holiday-themed flags to celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
Even with all those flags, Conner still hopes to grow his collection. He’d like to add flags for the states of Indiana and Colorado, one for the U.S. Air Force, one for his Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, one for Indiana State University (his alma mater) and one for Bucknell University (his wife’s alma mater).
Those new flags — and the two dozen he already owns — allow Conner to honor what’s important to him. And, every so often, they even cause others to stop and think.
“Throughout our country’s history, our flag has always gotten attention, challenged people, both in our country and around the world,” he says. “I think it’s both a blessing and a responsibility. The symbol of our flag remains of vital importance.”
Thanks to Ed Pease for the story idea.