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When the Flag Must Yield

According to United States Code (U.S.C.) Title 4, §7, (c)  “No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America…” This law reserves the place of honor to the national flag while on U.S. soil, territories, military bases, ships, etc. (with exception granted to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York).

Most Americans know this law even if they don’t know where to find it. Its intent is to prescribe the prominence of the symbol of the United States over that of “States, cities, … localities, or … societies.” It is this law that defines the order of placement of flags when flown in front of buildings, on staffs inside churches and other buildings, even while carried in parades.

What most people don’t know however, is that there is a notable exception written into federal law. An exception that permits one thing -one pennant- to fly in the place of prominence above the flag of the United States. This law essentially permits the emblem of the United States of America to yield prominence to something else.

The flag of the United States yields only to church services aboard Navy vessels.

According to U.S.C. approved by Congress on 2 June 1942 the United States flag flies above any other flag or pennant “except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy.”

Early on, the flying of the “church pennant” above the national flag was simply Navy  tradition used “as a signal by ships at sea to denote to other ships that Divine Service is being held on board the vessel where the pennant flies.”1

This tradition wasn’t looked on with favor by everyone. In 1923 a group of patriotic organizations met at a conference in Washington, D.C. to formulate and recommend law for the proper presentation and treatment of the flag of the United States. The members of this conference “looked with disfavor upon the Navy custom of hoisting the church pennant over the national emblem as a signal the Divine Services were in progress.”2

Not only by this conference, but disapproval was also expressed by some Congressmen. In years following, the Secretary of the Navy was even called before Congress to answer whether any pennant flew above “the Stars and Stripes” on Naval vessels.3

Navy Church PennantAs the United States entered World War II however, with the extreme support given to the military services and their members during times of war, the practice was codified into U.S. law to permit this Navy tradition to continue, as it does to this day. According to Jonathon Maloney, a Navy Chaplain at sea as of the time this writing, the church pennant is flown above the national colors “every Sunday when I am holding services on Ship.”4

So by federal law, this one exception exists that places the identification of the presence of the chaplain and the performance of worship above the emblem of the United States of America.




1Clifford Merrell Drury, “The History of the Chaplain Corps, United States Navy, Vol. 2, 1939-1949.” NAVPERS 15808, pg. 123.

Clifford Murray Drury, “The History of the Chaplain Corps, United States Navy, Vol. 1, 1778-1931.” NAVPERS 15807, pg. 229.


Facebook Messaging conversation between author and Chaplain Jonathon Maloney, 30 September 2017.



Chaplain Vincent Capodanno, KIM (Killed in Ministry)

On this day in 1967, Navy Chaplain Vincent Capodanno was on patrol with the Marines he was serving with in Vietnam when they were ambushed by enemy forces. Chaplain Capodanno continued to minister to the Marines under fire, until he was finally cut down by enemy fire. Here is his story:

Early Ministry

“The American involvement in World War II impacted Vincent personally with three of his brothers serving in the military and fostered in him a profound patriotism and overt faith. Often before classes at Curtis High School, Vincent attended daily Mass at his home parish, a practice he continued after graduation and during his undergraduate years at Fordham University. While on a spiritual retreat in 1949 he confided to a close friend and fellow student his vocational desire.

“Like many young adults of that era, Vincent was familiar with the missionary work of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society, the Maryknolls, through their magazine, The Field Afar. In following his call to share his faith by responding to peoples’ needs in Foreign Service, he applied to Maryknoll and received acceptance in 1949.

Capodanno-early“After nine years of intensive preparation in theology, academics, and basic survival tactics to fulfill the order’s mission to ‘Go and Teach All Nations,’ Vincent completed his seminary training and was ordained in 1958 by Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York. Accompanied by the tolling of the seminary’s bell, an annual tradition of the departure service, Father Capodanno learned his destination: Taiwan. He arrived on the island in 1959, and immediately began studying the difficult language and acclimating to the culture of his future parishioners, the Hakka-Chinese. While serving that community, Father Capodanno administered the sacraments, taught native catechists, and distributed food and medicine. Although he struggled while trying to fully understand their language, he developed a subsequent ability to attentively listen in responding to his parishioners.

“In the fall of 1960, he became the director of a youth hostel for young Chinese men preparing for the national college entrance exam. Besides overseeing their scholastic training, Father Capodanno was responsible for their spiritual and emotional needs, a significant challenge as the intense competition for college acceptance promoted depression and temptation of suicide. Several other short assignments occurred within six years followed by a six-month furlough and home visit. After returning to Taiwan, his superiors transferred Father Capodanno to Hong Kong, a decision he did not expect nor desire but which elicited a new response to God’s call of service.” (1)


In Vietnam

capodanno-bust“By acknowledging a totally different vocational ministry, he sought permission to join the Navy Chaplain Corps intending to serve the increasing number of Marine troops in Vietnam. Eventually Maryknoll granted this request, and after finishing Officer Candidate School, during Holy Week of 1966, Father Capodanno reported to the 7th Marines in Vietnam. As the chaplain for the battalion, his immediate focus was the young enlisted troops or “Grunts.” Later transferred to a medical unit, Father Capodanno was more than a priest ministering within the horrific arena of war.

Continue reading at Chaplain Vincent Capodanno, MoH Winner



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