How to Properly Retire an American Flag

Retire an American Flag

When and how to retire an American flag respectfully; an easy step by step guide anyone can follow.

The United States Flag Code outlines proper flag etiquette for everything from properly folding a flag to flying a flag correctly. It even describes in great detail how to retire an American flag respectfully.

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.” Thus, when a flag is torn and tattered beyond repair, it’s time for it to be retired.

Retire an American Flag

In Chicago this past June, there was a televised retirement ceremony for more than 7,000 flags. The ceremony featured members of each branch of the military. Recently Twin Falls Christian Academy principal, Brent Walker, held a ceremony to show students on how to properly retire old American flags. However, these are just two separate events of hundreds across the nation where members are respectfully retiring American flags.

When an American flag becomes worn, faded, torn or soiled, it should be retired and replaced with a new flag. There are several ways to respectfully dispose of the American flag without showing disgrace. The most commom method is burning the torn or tattered flag in a special ceremony. Here are the steps you should follow.

Flag retirement ceremony

The Veterans Department of Affairs suggests starting by folding the flag in a customary triangle manner. Then prepare a large enough fire space to sufficiently burn the flag completely. Next place the flag in the fire and while it burns, individuals at the ceremony should salute or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Finally, end the ceremony with a moment of silence and bury the ashes once the flag is completely consumed.

Many groups that hold annual or semi-annual flag retirement ceremonies often have their own unique traditions they also follow. But these are the minimum steps everyone should at least follow when they retire an American Flag.

Credit: Magic Valley

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13 thoughts on “How to Properly Retire an American Flag

  1. On 16 May 2014 the Friends Of Vets, Cops and Fire Fighters will hold our 6th Flag Retirement Ceremony at the Wilson County Fair Ground, Tennessee. About 300 flags will be retired paying tribute and honoring Veterans, Cops and Fire Fighters who have served or are serving. After the ceremony the flag attachment rings are cleaned and given to Vets, Cops and Fire Fighters to put on their key ring to carry as a reminder that they are thanked for their services.The flags are retired by Veterans,Cops Fire Fighters,Young Marines and Police Cadets.

    • Thanks for the update! Sounds like a really honorable event! Do you have a press release or website that we can share on our twitter account or on our blog?

      -CVS Flags

  2. What if it’s a nylon flag, do you still burn it? I’ve also been told you cut the flag in three pieces before burning.

    • Yes you should retire the flag just like the others; however, these flags will sometimes burst into flame before it touches the fire. I do not recommend that children handle these types of flags.

  3. The Boyscounts of America, as someone notes above, are taught how to properly retire a flag with honor and respect. The best time to do so is mid-day, when the old flag is flying, and can be lowered, retired, and a new flag raised. Regardless of when, or, presisely how, the important thing is that it is done with respect, honor, and pride. The Stars and Stripes are not tossed in the trash, or heaped into a fire. It is customary to prepare a suitably large fire, as noted above, and 2 people unfold (or relieve it from its post) and dispaly it, fully open, one last time. It is then layed over the fire, in its fully open state, to a bugle of Taps and salute when possible, and tended to until nothing but ash remains. When retiring directly from duty, it is important to relieve the flag with a new one, so that its post is never abandoned.

  4. i was taught years ago; for a private retirement, cut the blue field of stars from the stripes, then it is no longer a flag your burning, Just burn the pieces separately.

  5. As a cub scout leader, I am planning a flag retirement ceremony. The local VFW who donated the flags to be burnt suggested that the flags be held on a pole over the fire and did not like the idea of laying the flag on the fire or cutting the flag into pieces. Are these alternate procedures an acceptable way to retire the colors?

  6. The Boy Scouts, American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars are all authorized to dispose of worn out flags and most would be happy to accept your old flags. You can also do it yourself in a private ceremony. The flags can either be burned whole or cut in sections, or put in a box and buried. If you burn them, the ashes should be buried afterwards. The key to which ever way you go is to be respectful and remember what the flag(s) you are retiring stood for. I’m the Commander of my VFW post and we retired over 300 flags yesterday, as it was Flag Day.

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