Nosy Neighbor: Why Do Buses Have Backward Flags on the Windows?

Why do New York City buses have backward flags on the windows? —B.

Placed on buses after 9/11, the flags are backward on the right side of the bus to mimic how a cloth flag would look if it were being flown from the moving bus. That’s why the flags are correct on the left side (below). It’s an aeronautical tradition that appears to have originated in the U.S. military. From The Balance:

The idea behind the backwards American flag on Army uniforms is to make it look as though the flag is flying in the breeze as the person wearing it moves forward. The rule dates back to the Army’s early history, when both mounted cavalry and infantry units would designate a standard bearer, who carried the flag into battle. As this standard bearer charged, his forward momentum caused the flag to stream back. Since the Stars and Stripes are mounted with the canton closest to the pole, that section of the flag stayed to the right, while the stripes flew to the left. Therefore, the flag is worn on the right shoulder, and wearing it backwards gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward.

In 2003, in the beginning of the Global War on Terror, the uniform regulation for the Army was updated.  Army Regulation 670-1, “Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia,” addresses explicitly the proper and lawful placement of the U.S. flag patch on the Army uniform. “The Stars are to face forward,” the regulation states. When authorized for application to the proper uniform the American flag patch is to be worn, right or left shoulder. One of the flags will, therefore, be reversed (right shoulder) in order to adhere to the regulation and custom of having the stars facing forward. The term, “Assaulting Forward” has been adopted by combat troops versus “Facing Forward.”

Got a question? Email tribecacitizen@gmail.com.

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