Retiring your Flag

Tattered American flag blowing in the wind



U.S. holidays cover a wide range of meaning and sentiment.  Some are illustrated by holiday-specific decorations, while others use the U.S. flag as a focal point.  Veteran’s Day is one where the flag is displayed in honor of the day.  Many of us hang the stars and stripes in respect for all the men and women who have served in our military.  But do we know what to do with that flag when it is worn and torn? There actually are proper and improper ways to dispose of the American flag when it is time for it to be retired.


One way for the flag to be retired is to burn it, but in a proper ceremony. This is the preferred means for retiring a flag.  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.”  This does not mean it is acceptable to use your old flag as kindling at your next bonfire.  The flag should be properly folded (in triangular pattern) and burned in a retirement ceremony that is respectful of the flag and what it stands for by laying it atop the fire.


If you would like to honor this tradition but are not comfortable doing it yourself, contact your local post of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion or other similar organization.  They likely have regularly scheduled ceremonies.


Another option is to bury the flag in a sturdy wooden box, after it has been properly folded.  Some people hold a ceremony similar to that of a short funeral so it is a dignified process.  You may want to mark the burial spot with some type of landmark for future reference.


Shredding the flag is acceptable but only by separating the thirteen stripes with sharp scissors, leaving the blue field of stars intact.  Then the pieces must be burned or buried via one of the above-mentioned methods.


Lastly, you can send it to a reputable flag recycler for them handle for you.  Flags made today are not always cotton and natural material as they were back when flag codes were written.  The nylon and polyester that is often used today is more difficult to burn and can generate a toxic odor.  If open and safe space is limited and no VFW or American Legion post is nearby, this may be the best option for you.


Whichever method you choose, keep in mind what the flag represents and those who made sacrifices defending it.  This is why the American flag deserves a dignified and respectful retirement.