SUMMER is America's season. And it's also the season of Old Glory. It's the time of year when our flag seems more visible than ever. It flies proudly at Fourth of July celebrations, leads parades and community observances, decorates monuments and gravesites, flutters above tall buildings and city streets.

This is the season of the red, white and blue. But I'm worried about our flag because too often I see it displayed with everything from indifference to disrespect or dishonor.

I know that lots of people displayed the flag right after Sept. 11, and that was understandable.

Old Glory naturally appears when we want to come together as a nation and demonstrate our strength, unity and pride. But some of the flags that were flown after 9/11 seem to still be on display nearly eight years later. And what's left of them is not a pretty sight.

And it's not just the original Sept. 11 flags that leave me with an unsettled feeling. I see too many other tattered flags, faded flags, worn-out flags.

Recently I spotted some elongated, misshapen flags on poles at a new car dealership.

I see huge, oversize flags along highways in front of businesses. They seem to be on display solely to attract attention to the businesses.

In my neighborhood, a real-estate agent has placed small plastic American flags in the ground in front of many homes. Forget the fact that there's something inherently offensive about a plastic flag - these flags have promotional messages from the real estate agent attached to them.

Way too often I see flags touching the ground. Sadly, I've even seen a tattered flag flying over City Hall on the Market Street West side of the building.

Not too long ago, someone gave me a flag lapel pin that had a promotional message across the front of the flag.

And I've actually seen the flag used as a window covering and printed on paper plates, cups and napkins, even decorating articles of clothing. This was always considered improper but now seems to be accepted.

I hope that recognizing the importance of our flag is one thing we can all agree on.

President Obama, who declined to wear a flag pin early in his campaign, now routinely sports one on his lapel. Recently, he went so far as to extend Flag Day for a whole week. "The Stars and Stripes tells our nation's story and embodies its highest ideals," he said. "Its display reminds us of America's promise and guides us toward a brighter tomorrow."

If we love our flag - and we should - we are obliged to observe proper flag etiquette as stipulated by U.S. Code Title 36, Chapter 10, the Flag Code.

The flag's proportions are defined by law so that no matter how large or small it may be, it is clearly recognizable as Old Glory. The code also says the flag shouldn't be used as drapery, or for covering a speaker's desk, draping a platform, or for decoration in general.

It should never be used for any advertising purpose. Shouldn't be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use.

The flag should never have placed on it any insignia, letter, word, number or drawing. No part of the flag should ever touch the ground. It should be cleaned and mended when needed.

When a flag is so worn it's no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner. The Boy Scouts and American Legion routinely collect old flags and dispose of them properly. The Flag Code clearly states that "The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing."

Our flag is the living embodiment of our nation. This summer let's treat it as such. *

Daniel A. Cirucci is a lecturer in corporate communications at Penn State Abington. He blogs at dancirucc.blogspot.com.