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Why No Half-Staff Flag for Neil Armstrong?

Update: Several hours after this post was first published, the White House issued a directive that will have all American flags lowered to half staff in honor of Neil Armstrong.

Like most Americans, I found the news this weekend of the passing of Neil Armstrong saddening. An immensely private man, Armstrong’s accomplishments are the stuff of jaw-dropping legends. From his time as a test-pilot, saving the Gemini 8 mission from near disaster, to doing what he will always be remembered for – being the first person to set foot on the Moon.

If Armstrong had been an ancient Greek, I have little doubt Homer would have written poems about his accomplishments. Instead, cameras and reporters recorded his accomplishments and have preserved them for generations to come. In almost every obituary that has been written about him, the words most often used to describe him have been “humble,” “private,” “solid” and “gentle.” Having had the fortune of meeting him three times, I can attest to the accuracy of those descriptions. For a guy whose ego could be as deservedly monstrous as his accomplishments, he showed none of that flair or style, and those qualities only added to his iconic status.

I guess it’s for those reasons I found my drive into work this morning so disappointing. As I drove into Washington, I noticed that none of the U.S. flags were at half-staff. The flags surrounding the Washington Monument, on federal and commercial buildings, and even the White House, were at full-mast. I just shook my head in sadness at that sight.

I realize, as a longtime space enthusiast, I am more than unbiased in my reverence for Neil Armstrong and the legendary astronauts of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo era. Call it hero-worship if you will, but when you voluntarily decide to climb into what is essentially an experimental rocket, (built by the lowest bidder, as the astronauts of that era often stated) and blast off into God knows what, I think there is a more-than-special status for you in our society. These are the pioneers of the modern era who risked it all to explore, learn and boldly do what others have only dreamt about.

Somehow that does not merit the lowering of our flag to half-staff for at least a day to honor a man who became the ultimate explorer of his era. Recently, our flag was lowered for several days to honor the victims lost in the senseless shootings in Aurora, CO and the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI, as well as to honor the loss of a Park Service Ranger who died in the line of duty. It is also not unusual to see the American flag and state and local flags lowered to half-staff to honor police, fire and emergency personnel as well as American military service personnel lost in the line of duty. All of those are worthy occasions to display such a half-staff honor, but somehow we forgot that for Neil Armstrong. How is that possible?

Here’s a guy who along with his Apollo 11 partner Buzz Aldrin took our flag and planted it on the surface of the Moon, thereby fulfilling the vision of the President who put forward the world’s most ambitious mission. And now we’ve forgotten him by ignoring this very simple honor on his behalf.

I can easily argue the merits of why Neil Armstrong should lie in repose in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol and be afforded a full state funeral. As of this writing, whatever funeral arrangements are being made for him have been kept private – much like the man himself. Regardless of what they may be, as Americans, we owe him and the other pioneers like him a sign of our respect, and it has not been afforded.

In many ways, it probably seems like summoning ancient history to reflect on the Apollo era. For all of its success and glory, it was also a time of tremendous national strife and bitterness over civil rights, the Vietnam War and more. The Apollo 11 mission (as well as the Apollo 8 mission) was one of those brief times when the people of the world literally stopped and looked in awe at what we could do and felt good about themselves.

As a native son of Ohio – the cradle of aviation – Armstrong represented us on a journey that started with a single step and took us as a species (as well as a nation) leaping forward in hope, dreams and possibilities. He humbly carried our flag where he was asked to go, so it is time for Americans to ask, “Why can’t it be lowered for at least a day in his honor?”

Whether it be the distractions of the unfolding political conventions, a looming hurricane or late summer laziness, our nation’s leaders have let us down by not giving the simplest of orders to bring our flag to half-staff in his honor. I find that disheartening.

Armstrong was the perfect selection to be the first of us in this country (and for that matter the world) to set foot someplace other than our home planet. Somehow I feel we’ve let his example down by forgetting the honor he so richly deserves.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More
  • Mike

    I’m with you and I’ve been waiting all weekend. I grew up 11 miles from Wapak and I’ll be 51 this year. As anyone from Ohio knows flight is huge as well as space. A lot of Astronauts came from Ohio. Neil Armstrong was a pioneer. Not just some dude who walked on the moon. I don’t use the term hero often, but Neil Armstrong wasn’t just an Ohio or National hero, he was a hero for the whole world. At the time even the whole world said ” We did it.” Not just Americans. Mankind. We did it. It united the world briefly. The flag should only be lowered for major events and this is one of those. It just rubs me the wrong way that this wasn’t the first thing done. They announced his death at the Reds game and they lowered the flag. I live in Denver and nothing here yet. It is sad. Lowered the flags here because some nut shot up a movie theater. I know it was for those killed or injured, but that’s not my issue. On a national level there shouldn’t even be any hesitation. I don’t know what the question could possibly be to do it or not do it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaunie.owens Shaunie Owens

    I completely agree. I wasn’t born yet when Armstrong landed on the moon but I read about him in books at school and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I can only imagine the furor people across the world experienced as they watched human history unfold on TV. While some people are written only in American history, Armstrong is written in International history as the first human on the moon; that should hold some kind of distinction not only in American history, but the history of mankind. For that reason, I was also saddened to see not one American flag lowered in my area unless I missed it. I did a google search to find out if anyone had and only found that Purdue did; this is also how i found your article. Indeed it is sad. I am pretty sure if this was the 60s, there would have not only been half-staff flags, but an national/international ceremony for him as well. It’s just so sad that our society seems so caught up with everyday living, that we forget to pay respect, even for a couple of minutes, to those who made footmarks in history, that we are fortunate to be around to see those accomplishment happen.

    • Mike

      Thank you for your comments. I just sent email to the White House. This is something I need answers to because I just do not understand the logic of not showing some respect for this man. Perhaps my vision is skewed because of my age and where I grew up. But I try not to consider that. Coming from someone who was not born yet and hasn’t got the same attachment as I do, it means a lot more. My wife is Swiss. We went to a concert last night and she even noticed no flags came down.
      I’m sure we will not go through this when John Glenn passes because he was also a Senator as well as a hero. I was stationed in Norfolk and I am shocked that they didn’t lower flags there. The Intrepid did in NYC.
      I met the man years ago at a store. As down to earth as it gets. He would talk about a lot of things as long as you didn’t get too far into space or the moon. I walked away from that thinking I just talked to Neil Armstrong and it was like talking to a friend. But one of the coolest things ever and I’ve met plenty of “famous” people.
      I also found this article because I was trying to find out why flags were not coming down yet. I know it was th eweekend, but it is no excuse. It is no longer the weekend. It is almost 0900 here in Denver and still nothing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marc156 Marc Littleton

    I live here on the space coast and I sit here in my office this morning wondering why flags are not at half mast. This man was more to us then some presidents ever were.. he put dedicated his life to our country and NASA. I find this very sad but in my heart this man will never be forgotten… RIP Neil Armstrong. One small step for man, One giant leap for Heaven.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ken.bridges.3 Ken Bridges

    I simply cannot believe that the U.S. flag is NOT at half mast today. If there is anyone in the United States that has ever deserved a state funeral and every bit of respect we can muster, it is Neil Armstrong. I have a 20′ flagpole in my front yard and it has been at half mast since yesterday morning and will stay at half mast until he is buried.

  • HBeale

    Yet Congress felt it necessary to hold an official moment of silence for that freak Michael Jackson.

  • HBeale

    Yet Congress felt it necessary to hold an official moment of silence for that freak Michael Jackson.

  • JoSut

    And there was a half mast flag in new jersey for that singing drug addict Whitney Houston.

  • Anonymous

    The White House Just Issued this, Maybe you should have asked before you posted.

    THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary For Immediate Release August 27, 2012
    DEATH OF NEIL ARMSTRONG
    – – – – – – – BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
    A PROCLAMATION
    As a mark of respect for the memory of Neil Armstrong, I hereby order, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, that on the day of his interment, the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset on such day. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.
    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-seventh day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.
    BARACK OBAMA

    • Mike

      I sent email to the White House this morning so I did ask first. Perhaps you should read all of the comments first before you post. Obviously this came out after I asked. While normal people were sitting on their hands doing nothing, people like me were doing something. Huh, imagine that. I am certain that I am not the only one contacting them on this issue. None of us should have had to ask anything. That should have been the first action after the death was announced. They stopped a baseball game to lower the flag. Officials took the time to speak about it so there is no valid reason waiting this long to for this press release. Public pressure got this done. People perish on the weekends. Last I checked all laws run 24/7. The officials in charge are responsible 24/7. Unless you think it’s ok since it’s the weekend.

      • Anonymous

        No one was sitting on their hands. It just seems that way to you.

        • http://www.facebook.com/shaunie.owens Shaunie Owens

          Well it doesn’t really matter who was sitting on their hands and who wasn’t. After I read Mike’s message this morning I too sent an email to the White House about it, which was 3 hours before Obama’s announcement. But that’s not the point. As soon as word he had died hit the news on SATURDAY, it should have been a spontaneous reaction. In my opinion it should have been “we have interrupted our normal programming …”, public service announcement, reaction the moment it happened; not waiting until the next business day. Maybe it was in the works the moment he passed but took time in Congress, but it just leaves the perception that it was public pressure because it took two days for the announcement to even happen.

          • Mike

            Thank you again Shaunie. Just use this to know people can unite for a cause and we can make a difference. In this case it should not have been required. There is a blue moon this week and I’m sure it is going to get a lot more attention than normal. The people need to pay their respects as well. This is what being part of history is about. Mankind doesn’t get to do this again. Ever. The first person on Mars is just that and I’m sure that will be big. He or she will still not be the first person to set foot on a alien place. It’s just a different place further away. Just because I travel the West doesn’t make me like Lewis and Clark.

  • Bob

    I just lowered mine the moment I heard he passed. My flag… I do what I want.

  • joebnlh

    Obama ordered half-staff for THREE DAYS the Sikh temple shooting ASAP, and he’s ordering only one day for Neil Armstrong?????

  • goulet421@fontier.com

    I work for the USPS and we received notice from Obama to lower the flags at half staff, then we received another notice to cancel the first instructions. No clarification as to why.