On August 12, 2013 Mr. Alwyn Johnson, of Interlochen, publicly criticized the Discovery Center ~ Great Lakes in the Record-Eagle for flying the American Flag on a diagonal pole mounted to our nautical flag pole known as the “gaff.” While we admire Mr. Johnson’s patriotism and are grateful for his service, his citation of the US Flag Code only tells a part of the story. Chapter 8 of the US Naval Telecommunications Procedures for Flags, Pennants & Customs – NTP 13 (B) deals with the display of the U.S. Flag (National Ensign) on shore. Section 801b.(4) of the NTP describes how the American Flag should be displayed ashore on a pole with a yardarm (crosstree) and gaff, as is the configuration at the Discovery Center. The section contains this rule: “Polemast with Crosstree and Gaff – This is commonly called a ‘yacht club mast.’ Displayed from the gaff.” This directs the correct placement of the US flag on our pole.
Why is this? While the US Flag Code provides general guidelines for the display of the US flag, nautical flag display is based on long-standing traditions that date back over 300 years. Our nautical-style pole simulates a mast on a boat with a yardarm and gaff. It is meant to represent the sailing vessels of our Great Lakes maritime history. On this flag pole, Naval tradition requires that the American flag not be flown on top of the “mast,” but must be flown from the position of honor—the gaff, which would be at the stern of a boat. This configuration is endorsed by the US Power Squadron, and is used by yacht clubs and nautical facilities across the country.
The Discovery Center ~ Great Lakes takes the display of our US flag very seriously. We properly dispose of every well-worn US flag by using the flag disposal services offered at the Traverse City American Legion post. The display of our National Ensign on the gaff puts it in the place of honor and celebrates both our nation’s rich history and our special Naval and Maritime history. This configuration is intended to honor all military and civilian mariners, including US Navy veterans, such as Mr. Johnson.