Half Empty, Half Full, Half Staff

Here’s the latest from KELO:

Governor Mike Rounds is asking that all flags in South Dakota be flown at half-staff on Saturday in honor of a former state lawmaker.

The article goes on to tell us who the gentleman was and so forth.

Here is my problem, I’m very old school when it comes to using the altitude of the state and national flags to show respect for people who have died. Please understand that my following statements mean no disrespect to the individual mentioned in this particular article, nor anyone else who has been similarly selected by Governor Rounds.

I believe we need to reserve the lowering of the flag for times when a city, state, or nation collectively mourns the loss of an American. If the city of Sioux Falls would collectively mourn the loss of a mayor or council member (or state legislator), then the city may call for the lowering of the flag. Similarly for a state or federal government.

To ask for the flag to be lowered upon the earthly departure of any and every elected official, etc is to diminish the meaning of the symbol.

Flying the flag at half-staff used to mean that something important, tragic, and of common concern to the populace had occurred. When I drove down the street and saw a flag at half-staff, I could be assured that something momentous had taken place and if I turned on the radio, it the story would be on all the stations.

Such is no longer the case. Now, when I see the flag at half-staff, I don’t even wonder who it is for. Again, I do not wish any of this to be taken as unkindness towards any who have been honored in this fashion. Instead, file it under “if we are all special, then none of us is.”

7 thoughts on “Half Empty, Half Full, Half Staff

  1. The comments above are hard to make without incurring anger… but I agree completely. Our flag spends too much time at half mast. The death of any man or woman is a loss for the community. If we lowered the flag to honor every solider or statesman or just all-around decent guy who has done some good for our community, the flag would never fly full mast.

  2. I respectfully disagree. Death is a chance for a community, state, or nation to mourn the loss of someone who gave much. It was right to mourn Ted Kennedy, Bob Byrd, and Ronald Reagan as a nation. It was right to mourn Dick Kneip and George Mickelson. It is right for us to mourn our fallen soldiers, even if we had never heard of them. So it is with legislative leaders like Hemming Oien. Outside of Sioux Falls, few people probably had heard of him. And, because his service began over 30 years ago, today in Sioux Falls many don’t know of him. But, we should all be grateful to him as he was the consummate legislator, working hard on the details, maintaining geniality across party lines. I am so impressed that a man as unassuming and kind who never sought attention is so gratiously remembered by Governor Rounds. I know every legislator, page, and intern who came in contact with Hemming Oien is similarly grateful.

    Maybe this is easy for me since everytime I go into a Catholic Church I see the candles lit and reflect on the reality someone is alerting me they have a grave matter in need of prayer. When I see the flag at half mast, I reflect on the reality someone who I may not have ever met who worked to make my life better has died and I pause for a moment and say “Thank You.”

    1. Troy,

      Thank you for your thoughts. Again, please understand that I am not against honoring those who have died. I am objecting to the (I believe) overuse of the state and federal flags to do so.

      And, as I noted, I’ve nothing against the particular individual (whom you name) about which the linked article was written.

  3. Since I don’t know how many times the flag actually flies at half staff, I need a quantity. My memory is it is less than a few times a year except for a fallen soldier. “Seems like a lot” just isn’t specific enough.

    The last two I recall are Hemming Oien and Bill Dougherty. Both in my mind are deserving specifically and doesn’t seem excessive to me. We can’t spread out the date people die. Sometimes it might seem like we have a lot and then we go many months until it happens again.

    1. Troy,

      I do not know the number of times. I do know that the rules as defined at http://sd.gov/docs/flagpolicy.pdf (PDF) allow the governor a lot of flexibility. I have a request in to the governor’s office to see what the actual number is over the last year and half or so.

      I do know that we used to go for months without lowering the flag except on the appointed days of remembrance. Presidents didn’t die that often.

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