The Right Way to Retire an American Flag

There’s more to retiring a worn American flag than simply throwing it away.  In fact, there’s a formal ceremony that outlines how to conduct a patriotic burning of the flag, or several flags collected over time, ensuring that the proper amount of respect and care are offered during the process.

The National Flag Foundation offers etiquette guidelines that help ensure people properly handle, care for, and dispose of their flags, allowing everyone to offer the necessary level of respect.

The process for most Americans is actually fairly simple.  First, you must cut the blue field of stars away from the red and white stripes.  This officially makes the flag no longer a flag.

Then, the two pieces can be burned in one or two fires, but it is important that the fires be used for no other purpose but the ceremony.  The fire may need to be stoked and adjusted so that the two pieces are completely burned, leaving no part of the retired flag recognizable.  Finally, the ashes need to be either scattered or buried.

Formal, larger-scale ceremonies can be much more involved.  As reported by Fox 10, ideally, the ceremony should be conducted outdoors at sunset, and may also involve one or two color guards. There is a final tribute involving spoken words and specific actions, including a formal salute, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and sometimes the flag is refolded from its traditional tri-corner fold to a coffin-shaped rectangle before it is burned.

As with other ceremonies, once the flag is completely consumed, the ashes are buried.

In many cases, the more formalized ceremony is out of the reach of most individuals, but that doesn’t mean your flag can’t be retired using that process.

If you find yourself with an American flag that needs to be retired and don’t have the means to conduct the ceremony yourself or prefer it to be part of a larger ceremony, organizations like the American Legion and Boy Scouts are often more than willing to take possession of your flag and ensure it is handled properly during their next flag retirement ceremony.