Today on “Lighten Up! Tips for Letting Go in 2024” I am feeling patriotic. Let’s talk about what to do with old flags.
The American Flag holds a lot of significance for most Americans. In fact, the flag is so important that there are guidelines for how to handle flags in a respectful manner, including:
- Don’t let the flag touch the ground.
- Don’t fly flag upside down.
- Don’t carry the flag flat or carry things in it.
- Don’t use the flag as clothing.
- Don’t store the flag where it can get dirty.
- Don’t use the flag as a cover (e.g. over furniture or a grill)
- Don’t fasten it or tie back the flag. Always allow it to fall free.
- Don’t draw on, or otherwise mark the flag.
Many people end up with flags that are not in good enough condition to be flown. All flags that are torn, shredded, soiled, or faded should be retired. There is an etiquette for disposing of an old flag. The Veterans of Foreign Wars recommends the following procedure for burning old flags:
- The flag should be folded in its customary manner.
- Start a fire. It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag.
- Place the flag on the fire.
- The individual(s) present can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.
- After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished, and the ashes buried.
- Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.
If you have an old flag but aren’t able to manage the process of burning it, the best option is to drop it off at a place that will. There are a number of organizations who do this, so look in your area to find the most convenient one. A couple of places to look are:
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)
- American Legion
- Veterans Funeral Specialist (VFS)
- Scouting Organizations
I found it interesting to read about the ceremony that the American Legion performs with old flags:
The flags that are no longer serviceable are presented to Legion commanders, who inspect them to make sure they should, in fact, be discarded. When it’s agreed upon that they’ve reached their current worn state due to proper service of tribute, memory and love, a color guard presents the colors, and a chaplain offers prayers.
As the crowd salutes, the flag detail dips the retired flags into kerosene and puts them on a rack over the fire. A bugler sounds “To the Colors.”
If you live in or near Darien, CT, you can drop off old flags to a collection box at the VFW, located at 205 Noroton Ave, Darien, CT 06820. In 2020, For his Eagle Scout service project, Troop 35, Life Scout Ian Holly refurbished portions of the outside pavilion and plaque display at the VFW building. Recognizing the need for a flag collection site in Darien, Ian’s project included the creation of a flag depository box to collect old flags, which is now open to the community to deposit worn flags for proper retirement. Here is a photo I took of the box, which, at the time I took the photo, was located around the back of the building at the rear entrance.
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Treating our flag with respect is one way to express gratitude for anything you appreciate about this country, as well as to honor those who have sacrificed to protect it.
Have you ever retired a flag?