Information on Proper American Flag Retirement
Many of us proudly display this symbol of our country on symbolic days such as Independence Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day or even year round but do we know what the proper American flag retirement process is?
Obviously we know that after being outside for extended periods of time, our flag no longer looks as good as it did when you first displayed it. Sometimes a good machine wash (yes, this is acceptable) in cold water with a mild detergent is all that is needed. Your wet flag can then be laid flat, hung to dry or dried on low in your dryer. (Some dry cleaners will even clean your flag for free, so be sure to check with your local cleaners!) Flags that show early signs of wear may be mended but it’s really up to you to decide when your flag should be retired.
Age, pollution and weather eventually get the best of it and at some point it’s just time for a new flag. There’s nothing stating you can’t keep that old flag if it has some historic or sentimental value to you and your family, but if you obtained a bright shiny new version of this symbol of our country then what do you do if you don’t have a need for the old tattered one?
The U.S. Flag Code states that “The Flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” Proper American Flag Retirement should always be done in a dignified way.
How to Retire Old Flags in a Dignified Way
Proper American Flag Retirement for those old worn or tattered flags is by burning them. This has been deemed the most honorable final tribute. Any one person or group can conduct their own burning ceremony to dispose of their own flags but there are a number of organizations that will take your old flag and give it a dignified goodbye for you.
Organizations to contact
There are a number of organizations that will accept your old U.S. flags and conduct honorable ceremonies to ensure Proper American Flag Retirement. You can contact any of the agencies below for more information on their local chapter or where you can take your old flag.
- American Legion
- Boy Scouts of America
- Girl Scouts of America
- Marine Corps League
- Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
- The Flag Keepers
Retiring your own American Flag
Any individual, family, organization, or group can dispose of an American flag privately as long as the ceremony is respectful. Please be aware that your area may prohibit open fires or may require notification of local authorities or fire department prior to the event.
There is no specific required ceremony as long as it’s a dignified show of respect. Here is an example of one alternative for a Proper American Flag Retirement.
- Recite the Pledge of Allegiance while holding the flag off the ground. Say a few words about the time the flag has served to signify our great country.
- Cut the flag in order to allow it to completely burn. Be sure to cut in a dignified manner and do not allow the flag to touch the ground. Cut the section of stars from the flag. Cut each of the stripes apart.
- Put each of the stripes in the fire one by one. This can be done by each of the family members or participants.
- Place the section of stars in the fire.
- Once the flag is completely burned, bury the ashes.
If you’re interested in more information about proper etiquette on flag topics, Flags USA has a great list of Frequently Asked Questions About Flags and you can also visit the Flag Etiquette page on usflag.org for addition information on proper American flag retirement as well as other flag etiquette.