If you look closely, you may notice that the American flag appears to be “backward” on military uniforms, but that’s not technically the case. At first glance, this can be confusing for civilians who are used to viewing the American flag with the blue star field, or canton, in the top left corner rather than the top right. However, there is an important reason why the American flag has a reversed appearance on military uniforms.
Understanding the Reversed Flag
The flag is typically worn on the right shoulder of a military uniform, with the stars facing toward the front of the person wearing the uniform. One reason for this is that, when the flag is displayed this way, it appears to be "flying" as the troops march forward. To help visualize this, think of an American flag flying in the wind on a flagpole. The canton is always facing towards the front, with the stripes “flowing” behind.
So when the U.S. flag is displayed on any object that is moving, including a person in uniform, the field of blue must be displayed towards the front of the object to indicate the flag is always flying.
Additionally, American paratroopers wore “backward” flag patches on their uniforms to serve as a way to distinguish them from enemy troops. This was helpful since paratroopers often landed behind enemy lines and the flag patch allowed fellow service members to recognize them.
The History of the Reversed Flag
The history of the backward flag can be traced back to the Civil War. Even during these times, units had flag bearers who would carry the flag into battle. As they bravely marched forward, you could see the American Flag flying in the wind. This was a military symbol representing the courage and dedication of those who served and fought.
In 2003 the military began to slowly integrate the backward American flag military patch into the uniforms of all branches. Today, every single uniform worn by our brave troops bares the American flag patch flowing in the wind.
The Flag Code
It is worth noting that the rules for displaying the American flag are set forth by the U.S. Flag Code and according to the Code, the American flag should be displayed with the union (the blue field with the stars) at the top left corner when it is displayed on a flagpole or in a similar manner. The flag code does allow for American flag patches on uniforms as part of the military, police, firefighters, and other organizations of a patriotic nature.
In essence, the backward appearance of the American flag on military uniforms is not a sign of disrespect or oversight but rather a deliberate design choice rooted in the principles of the Flag Code. It symbolizes the constant advancement and progress of the nation and its defenders, ensuring that the spirit of patriotism and honor embodied by the flag remains unwavering, even in the face of practical considerations.
Additional American Flag Info
For more information on the Flag Code or how to properly handle your American flag, check out these helpful articles!