Lowering the flag: Some examples of half-staff tributes
NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly 90 percent of days last year, one or more states were flying the American flag at half-staff to memorialize the deaths of military members, public officials, police, first responders, prominent citizens and victims of mass killings and disasters, The Associated Press found in analyzing information from all 50 states and the federal government.
A look at some honorees:
Epigrammatic baseball great Yogi Berra, known as much for his quips as his Hall of Fame career with the New York Yankees, was recognized in New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie lowered flags for a resident he described as a “national treasure,” as well as a World War II veteran. Christie has been notably open to extending flag honors to famous people who aren’t public servants, including E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons in 2011 and singer Whitney Houston in 2012. Some critics noted Houston’s drug use; Christie said it shouldn’t outweigh the New Jersey native’s impact on culture.
Former U.S. Sen. and actor Fred Thompson, a Republican whose roles in American public life spanned from real-life Senate counsel at the Watergate hearings to fictional district attorney on NBC’s “Law & Order,” was honored in his home state of Tennessee. Civil rights leader Julian Bond, who led the NAACP for a decade, was honored in Georgia , where he had been a state representative and state senator.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lowered flags on what the Republican proclaimed Chris Kyle Day , in honor of Navy SEAL and “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle, considered the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. He was killed at a Texas shooting range in 2013.
FIRSTS AND LASTS
Some flag orders recognized firsts, such as former Utah Gov. Olene Walker , a Republican educator and so far the only woman and only Ph.D. to hold the state’s highest office. New Mexico honoree Bahe Ketchum , on the other hand, was among the last roughly 20 members of a distinguished group: the hundreds of Navajo code talkers who played a vital role in World War II by transmitting radio messages in a code based on their native language, which flummoxed the Japanese.
When Democratic former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick lowered flags until the late Sen. Edward Brooke’s funeral, Patrick might not have thought they would be at half-staff for 65 days — so long that Patrick’s Republican successor, Gov. Charlie Baker, decided to issue an order reminding people to raise them once Brooke was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Brooke, a Republican, was the first black person elected to the Senate by popular vote, rather than by a Reconstruction-era state legislature.
New Yorkers saw flags at half-staff for 30 days for former Gov. Mario Cuomo, one of the state’s best-known leaders and the father of current Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.
TERROR AND TRAGEDY
While President Barack Obama ordered flags lowered nationwide after such attacks as the terror strikes in Parisand San Bernardino , California, governors also recognized victims of mass killings and casualties including the shootings of nine black Charleston, South Carolina, churchgoers in what authorities say was a racially motivated massacre; the deaths of 33 mariners when the freighter El Faro sank off the Bahamas in a hurricane; and an assault by radicals on a luxury hotel in Bamako, Mali, in which an aid worker from New Jersey was among the 19 people killed. The Charleston shootings also led to a different kind of flag lowering: the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse.
Some veterans and conservatives excoriated Obama for not immediately ordering flags to half-staff after five military members were killed at a Tennessee recruiting center in July. The Democrat issued the order five days later, after more than a dozen governors did.
FALLEN IN THE LINE OF DUTY
Many half-staff orders reflected the dangerous work and poignant deaths of police, first responders and members of the military.
Oklahoma honored the first American soldier to die in combat against Islamic State militants in Iraq; Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler helped free approximately 70 Iraqi prisoners from captivity in an October raid. Several other states lowered flags for veterans whose remains were identified only recently after their deaths in action as far back as World War II. One, Cpl. Lee Brown of Oregon, was killed just seven days after being deployed in the Korean War, at age 17.
Delton Daniels also was in his first week in his position, as a sheriff’s deputy in South Carolina’s Marlboro County, when he was killed in an on-duty car crash. Dennis Rodeman , a Lansing, Michigan, firefighter, was run down in a street while collecting donations. Police said the motorist told them he was angry the charity drive was tying up traffic.
One honoree’s story later had a startling twist. When Illinois lowered flags for Charles Joseph Gliniewicz , a police lieutenant in the Chicago exurb of Fox Lake, authorities believed he’d been killed after pursuing three suspicious men into a swamp. But two months later, investigators concluded he killed himself because he had embezzled from a youth program and feared being found out.
HALF-STAFF FOR A POLICE DOG
Ohio Gov. John Kasich ordered flags to half-staff in memory of a fallen member of the Toledo police force — Falko, a German shepherd shot by a homicide suspect he was trying to apprehend.
Some people aren’t comfortable with lowering flags for dogs, and the issue sparked a brief squabble last year between the mayor and police chief of New Martinsville, West Virginia (the honor was ultimately given to a police dog that died there). Proponents say animals known as K9 officers deserve an officer’s recognition.
Flags have even been lowered for a pet: Former Maine Gov. Percival Baxter’s Irish setter, Garry, in 1923. Answering critics, the Republican governor called it “a tribute well deserved but long deferred” for man’s best friend.
Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter, @jennpeltz.