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Half-Staff Confusion

As Tragedies Pile on, Mixups Reign Across the Metro for Old Glory

Flags in various positions These two photos show the flags at the National World War I Museum and Memorial fully raised, while at the same time they were at half-staff in front of the Kansas City Police Department's headquarters building on Tuesday. Ongoing national and international violence has created city-wide confusion. (Photos: Brad Austin | Flatland)
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Tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy seems to have overwhelmed the men and women who raise and lower Old Glory in all the places she flies across Kansas City.

Indeed, the killings have been coming so fast and furious, coordination has become a problem.

Yesterday, for example, the U.S. flag was at half-staff at the Federal Reserve Bank at 1 Memorial Drive. That’s just across the street from the National World War I Museum and Memorial, where the Stars and Stripes remain at full staff.

The Federal Reserve had lowered its flags based on a July 15 proclamation by President Obama, honoring the victims of the terrorist attack in Nice, France the day before. They were to return to full staff at sunset yesterday, after five days.

But even before that happened, a new presidential proclamation was issued on Monday, honoring the police officers in Baton Rouge who were ambushed by a Kansas City gunman the previous day. Those same flags had just returned to full staff on July 12, after yet another proclamation honoring the Dallas police officers who were killed July 7.

Preceding all of those, of course, was Obama’s June 12 flag-lowering proclamation honoring the shooting victims in Orlando.

All in all, President Obama has ordered the U.S. flag to half-staff (including for both tragedies and holidays such as Memorial Day) 69 times – more than any other president in modern history.

Barring another tragedy, the Federal Reserve’s flags — and those of many other federal facilities — will return to full staff at sunset on Friday.

But not everybody can keep up with all this, it seems.

Across the street from the Federal Reserve, the folks at the World War I Memorial – where flags were at full staff yesterday and today — say they take their flag-lowering cues from City Hall.

But City Hall’s U.S. flag – at least the one on the top of the building — was actually at half-staff yesterday and returned to full staff this morning, according to Curt Futvoye, manager of the municipal complex downtown.

Futvoye, who takes his flag etiquette cues from city manager Troy Schulte, said he can’t remember another time in his nine-year tenure at City Hall when the flag was raised and lowered so many times (12 times this year alone, during a year when there have been 38 presidential flag-lowering proclamations so far).

“There have been so many tragedies lately, there’s probably some confusion,” said Mike Vietti, director of marketing for the World War I Museum. “Additionally, it’s certainly possible that some City venues are quicker than others to lower/raise their flags.”

Just catty-corner from City Hall (where one flag remained at full staff this morning), the flag at the Missouri State Court of Appeals for the Western District was at half-staff early today, based on Obama’s most recent proclamation regarding Baton Rouge.

Mary “Dubbie” Buckler, of the American Legion Auxillary, is a flag etiquette expert, and she is sensing something of a flag-lowering fatigue around the nation.

“I can see where (coordinating all this) can be confusing, in terms of knowing when one presidential proclamation ends and another begins,” said Buckler, the organization’s executive director and national secretary. “Gosh, just in the last five weeks there have been four proclamations, with each one lasting five days.

“Terrorist killings are so rampant and violence directed at police officers escalating to the point, where I just surmise there is confusion on when to return them to full staff.”

The problems are forgivable, however, Buckler said, because many of those who raise and lower flags are volunteers.

Flag etiquette is governed by the U.S. Flag Code, but, to add to the confusion, governors and mayors can also order flags lowered, for the death of a former governor or mayor, for example. Citizens who fly the flag at their homes are also permitted to lower their flags for the deaths of community leaders or soldiers in their neighborhood.

Indeed, confusion, or miscommunication, continues to unfurl across the city and beyond.

While the flag was at full staff today at the top of City Hall, it was at half-staff on the ground just north of City Hall, and at County offices across the street to the south. It was also at half-staff at Kansas City police headquarters just east of City Hall, and at the downtown airport, which is owned by the city.

Flags were also at half-staff yesterday and today at Union Station. Across the street at the Westin Crown Center Hotel, the flag was at full staff yesterday, but flying at half-staff today.

The flag at The Kansas City Star was at full staff this morning, but was lowered after KCPT contacted the newspaper to ask about its flag protocols.

Flags should be at half-staff at U.S. Postal Service centers throughout the city, according to a Postal Service spokesperson, but remained at full staff at some post offices today.

As far north as Smithville, flags were at half-staff at City Hall there, and at a private citizen’s home, but full mast at a post office, and at a local marina.

KCPT reporter Daniel Boothe and interns Kelly Cordingley and Sean Hull contributed to this story.

— Reach Mike McGraw at mmcgraw@kcpt.org. 

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