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Why is the American Flag Reversed on Military Uniforms?

Why is the American Flag Reversed on Military Uniforms?

You may have seen that on a military uniform, the U.S. flag is displayed on its sleeve—but it seems backwards. Why? It turns out that there’s a great reason, and you might just find yourself feeling a bit more pride when you find out.

When the flag is flying from a flagpole, the stars are always against the pole. As the wind blows, the flag streams out, displaying its beautiful stars and stripes. This is how most of us are used to seeing the flag; the stars are on the left side with the stripes proudly flowing behind.

Civil War History

On a military uniform sleeve, however, if the flag were displayed with the stars on the left, it would look as though the flag was retreating as the troops moved forward—and the United States does not retreat. In fact, it must always face forward; even in ceremonies the U.S. flag never dips, even in respect to other countries when visiting. The American flag does not bow to anyone or any other country.

It all started during the Civil War. Back then, someone would carry the flag into battle; as they surged forward, the motion would make the flag appear to be streaming backward with the stars up front.

That concept has survived through the years, and the military uniforms adopted it. Army regulations state:

“The full-color U.S. flag cloth replica is worn so that the star field faces forward, or to the flag’s own right. When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the observer’s right, and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward. The appropriate replica for the right shoulder sleeve is identified as the reverse side flag.”

Flag PatchTraditionally, the right shoulder of a uniform is the place of honor; if a soldier deploys in combat, for instance, the patch of the unit he deploys with is displayed with on that shoulder. Above that patch, however, is the U.S. flag—and it looks like it’s backwards. In reality, its position hearkens back to the Civil War, and the standard bearer charging into battle with the flag streaming behind.

Military uniform sleeves aren’t the only place where the flag is displayed this way. Airplanes and vehicles also show it with the stars facing forward for the same reason.

Next time you see the U.S. flag in a position where it looks backwards, now you know—it’s not backwards. It’s advancing forward, always.