President, Vice President, and Cabinet Officers

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Navy Regulations provide for the display aboard ships of the Navy of the personal flags of senior officials of the United States Government, down to the rank of assistant secretary, who are in the Navy's organizational chain of command:  the President and Vice President, officials of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and those of the Navy Department.  These flags are flown at the truck of the aftermost mast while the official is aboard; if the vessel being visited is a flagship, the admiral's flag or the commander's command pennant is shifted to the starboard yardarm of the same mast.  If more than one official is visiting, only the flag of the seniormost official is displayed.

When a senior official formally visits a Navy or Marine Corps shore installation, his or her flag is flown from the point where the installation commander's flag normally flies, usually at the starboard yardarm of the main flagmast.  For flying aboard ship, or from a pole equipped with halyards ashore, these flags come in two sizes based on the size of the ship or pole:  41 by 61.5 inches or 22 by 32 inches.  When mounted on a staff for indoor display or parade use, these flags are 52 x 66 inches with a 2.5 inch fringe around the top, fly end, and bottom, and with an eight foot six inch cord with tassels attached to top of the staff.

President of the United States

President of the United StatesThe first flag designed specifically for the President was introduced by Navy Department General Order 300 of August 9, 1882:  "a blue ground with the coat of arms of the United States in the center."  Ever since, the flag used by the Navy for the President has been blue with the eagle and shield, although the specific rendering has been changed over the years.  The current basic flag was promulgated by President Truman on October 25, 1945, in Executive Order 9646.  It shows the Presidential coat of arms encircled by a ring of stars equal to the number of states.   When displayed from a staff indoors or in ceremonies, the flag is 52 by 66 inches in size, trimmed with a gold and silver bullion fringe.  The staff is made of wood with a coating of black enamel, topped with a special gilt eagle finial and ornamented with a red, white, and blue cord and tassels.  A boat carrying the President displays a brass spread eagle at the tip of both the ensign staff and the staff bearing his personal flag.  Follow this link for the history of the Presidential flag.

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Vice President of the United States

Vice President of the United StatesAlthough Navy signal books and regulations since the time of the Civil War had variously provided for the use of the national ensign or jack, flown at the fore, to signify the presence of the Vice President, there was no distinctive flag for his use until 1915.  In March of that year, a New York Times story reported that he would be given a flag showing a "bluebird" on a white field--apparently a reference to a blue eagle bearing the national arms--for Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall's voyage to San Francisco aboard USS ColoradoColorado's log for March 22 reports the hoisting of the Vice President's flag, which is preserved today at the Dan Quayle Vice Presidential Museum in Indiana. Contrary to the New York Times description, however, the eagle is not blue but in the same natural colors used for the Presidential flag at the time.

It was not until 1936 that a Vice President's flag was made official with the issuance of Executive Order 7285.  This flag was essentially that of the President with the colors reversed, which is still the basic principle of the current flag, promulgated by Executive Order 11884 of October 7, 1975.  The 1975 flag is white with almost the same coat of arms shown on the President's flag, although slightly larger. (The chief of the shield is dark blue instead of light blue and the scroll and stars above the eagle's head are light gray.) There are four dark blue stars in the corners.  When displayed indoors or on parade, the Vice President's flag is 52 by 66 inches, trimmed with blue and white fringe, cord, and tassels, and the staff is topped by the same eagle used by the President.  In a boat, the flagstaff ornament for the Vice President is a spread eagle.

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Secretary of State

Secretary of StateNavy Regulations provide for the display of the flag of the Secretary of State aboard ships of the Navy only when the Secretary is embarked while acting as the President's special foreign representative.  Given modern means of transportation, it is almost inconceivable that this would happen today, but it was in just such a case that the Secretary's flag was first created.  In anticipation of Secretary Robert Lansing's planned visit to South America as President Wilson's special envoy, Executive Order 3360 on November 28, 1920, prescribed for the Secretary's use a dark blue flag with the arms of the Department of State (i.e., the U.S. national coat of arms) in white, flanked on either side by a gold star, and directed that it be displayed on any United States vessel carrying him during the visit.  Executive Order 3360 was cancelled in 1933, but a new flag in the current design was promptly authorized by State Department Order 545 on the same day.  That design is a blue flag with the national coat of arms in color on a white disk, and a white star in each corner.  Title 22, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1, provides that the dimensions of the flag will be in accordance with military and naval custom.  For normal display indoors and at ceremonies, it is therefore 52 by 66 inches, with white fringe and a blue and white cord and tassels.  For shipboard use, it would take the same 43 by 61 1/2 inch dimensions used for other senior official's flags.  A large version of this flag flies from the left-hand flagpole outside the C Street entrance of the Department of State in Washington, the Stars and Stripes flying at the right-hand pole.
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Secretary of Defense

Secretary of DefenseThe establishment of the Department of Defense in 1947, creating a new cabinet secretary and staff structure in the Navy's chain of command, inevitably led to the development of a new series of personal distinguishing flags.  The first of these, naturally enough, was that of the Secretary of Defense himself.  This flag, approved by President Truman on October 7, 1947, is medium or "Defense" blue with an American bald eagle in full color in the center and a white star in each corner.  The eagle's wings are expanded, its talons grasp three crossed arrows, and the United States shield is displayed on its breast.  All the personal flags used by officials of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as well as by the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, use the same eagle and arrows, which also forms the central device in the departmental seal.  When used as a ceremonial or indoor flag, it is trimmed with white fringe and has a medium blue and white cord and tassels attached.  The staff of this ceremonial flag and the Secretary's boat flag is topped with a brass spread eagle.

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Secretary of the Navy

Secretary of the NavyExcept for the anchor's having been enlarged and redesigned over the years, this basic design was adopted as the flag for the Secretary of the Navy in 1866.  When displayed on a staff for indoor or parade use, it is trimmed with golden yellow fringe and equipped with a golden yellow cord and tassels.  The flagstaff ornament for the Secretary of the Navy's flag is a brass spread eagle.

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Secretary of Transportation

Secretary of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation functions with respect to the Coast Guard in the same role the Secretary of the Navy has vis-à-vis the Navy and Marine Corps.  His flag is displayed aboard Coast Guard cutters and installations under the same procedures as the the Secretary of the Navy's is in the other naval services.  It is "Department of Transportation blue" with the Department's "triskelion" emblem on the center, surrounded by the name of the department, all in white.  When flown at the bow of a Coast Guard boat, this flag is topped with a spread eagle finial.


Secretary of Commerce

Secretary of CommerceThe Secretary of Commerce's flag is displayed aboard vessels and installations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration when he pays official visits to them, according to the same rules used by the Navy and Coast Guard.  The Secretary's flag is blue with the departmental shield in the center in white and a white star in each corner.

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