OT - Flag Retirement

Submitted by Blazefire on May 10th, 2010 at 8:33 AM

Okay, so, way OT, but again, it's May. Deal.

My U.S. Flag is a tattered mess. I get very high winds outside my house, and my flag hangs 24/7 (except on game days, which I trade it up for my Michigan flag). I have ordered a new, really high quality US made flag for high wind areas, which should be here in about a week. In the mean time, I need to conduct a Flag Retirement.


When I have talked to my neighbors, and much of my family, they have been very dismissive of the whole idea, suggesting I should just continue to fly the tattered one, or just throw it in the garbage, which is deeply bothersome to me. Furthermore, most of my neighbors don't even FLY a flag.

Does anyone have any ideas on how I might hold a flag retirement which will A: Not make them think I'm crazy, and B: Maybe encourage a few of them to respect the flag a little bit more? My current plan is to lay out bricks to form an enclosure, light coals in there, and drape the flag over to the star spangled banner. This will be followed by burgers and dogs for the wife and I. Shall I invite others?

Edit: The burgers and dogs will NOT be cooked over the same coals.



May 10th, 2010 at 8:39 AM ^

You should definitely not keep flying the tattered flag (as you obviously know).  My dad is a Vietnam War veteran and makes a point of keeping flags updated around my hometown.  He sends letters to businesses/homeowners asking them to get a new flag and/or stop flying tattered and faded flags.  He's even bought new flags for some of them.

Anyway, the proper way to dispose of a flag is by burning it.  I wouldn't make a big deal out of it.  I think having a "retirement party" like you suggested is going a bit overboard, but that's just me.  I would just make it clear to your family members that you're disposing of the flag in a particular fashion and that it does indeed matter to you. 

Kudos to you for taking this stuff seriously.


May 10th, 2010 at 12:47 PM ^

I am a Boy Scout leader and we would be honored to do a retirement for your flag if you would like.

Just let me know.


EDIT:  My oldest son is an Eagle Scout, is in Ann Arbor and would be happy to pick the flag up at your house - if that would help.  Just post me and we will make arrangements.  I will post pictures of the ceremony if you would like.


May 10th, 2010 at 8:44 AM ^

...VFW or American Legion post or Boy Scout troop.  All three orgs often hold flag retirement ceremonies. 

USC Title 36, Chapter 10, §126. Respect for flag, (k) 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.

Benefits: You get rid of the tattered flag which should not be displayed; you provide it to a group that knows how to respectfully dispose of it; you help these organizations promote proper display of the flag.


May 10th, 2010 at 8:55 AM ^

Are these open to the public? I'm wary of doing that simply because my grandfather was a WWII vet, and he stopped attending VFW functions when they once held a flag retirement by lighting a bon fire and chucking a box of flags in without so much as a salute. I guess they had a new leader of the post, and a lot of guys stopped attending functions after that. I guess he wasn't very respectful of his position.

James Burrill Angell

May 10th, 2010 at 12:10 PM ^

when I was in middle school they had some local VFW guys come to our school when the flag got shredded in a bad storm and they came with buggler, lowered it, said something profound that I can no longer remember and then burned it. I've heard multiple times since the proper way to dispose of a torn flag is to burn it.


May 10th, 2010 at 10:47 AM ^

I remember when I was in scouts years ago, we had some veterans for scoutmasters.  We were told the proper way was to cut it down the middle both vertically and horizontally, separating the starts and stripes.

Then burn the four pieces individually.


May 10th, 2010 at 8:54 AM ^

If you google flag retirement ceremony you will find some examples that various groups use.

My boy scout troop generally cut the blue from the stripes and put them on the fire separately, but that appears to be optional.  I've seen other troops go as far as to separate the red stripes from the white ones, but that's probably a little bit overboard.

In general the common theme is to say something nice about the flag (perhaps even the pledge of allegiance) then to put the flag on the fire and observe silently while it is consumed.  I think this could be done in a way that your neighbors don't think you're crazy.

Bando Calrissian

May 10th, 2010 at 9:13 AM ^

Find a local Boy Scout troop.  Most will do flag retirements on a regular basis.  If you're in Ann Arbor, give the Great Sauk Trail Council a call, their office is over off of Washtenaw on Eisenhower.  They can get you in touch with someone who can help.


May 10th, 2010 at 9:16 AM ^

In the 60's and 70's when hippies burned flags that wasn't acceptable..  but the proper way of disposing a flag is to burn it....

So let me get this straight it's okay to burn the flag but only with the right people at the right time.  Got it!  So what was wrong wtih Jack Kevorkian again wasn't he just a "flag retirement" for people? 


May 10th, 2010 at 9:38 AM ^

...gives you the right answer to your question, Bouje, but here's some more.

Burning a flag in protest can't be construed as "dignified."  On the other hand, some of the ceremonies that folks do (as described above) -- cutting the field out, cutting the stripes apart, then burning -- go way overboard and smack of flag fetishism.

The US flag symbolizes many different things to many different people.  That said, the vast majority of US citizens regard it with appropriate reverence, but often their display of the flag lacks dignity.

I really appreciate the fact that Blazefire is thinking about this issue. 


May 10th, 2010 at 9:50 AM ^

I am hoping your joking.

Obviously, while one group is doing it because they are protesting the actions of their elected government, another is doing it to respectfully dispose of the flag of their country (i.e., so you don't find a tattered flag mixed in with a bunch of soiled diapers at the landfill).

Interestingly, the disrespectful protesting seems to go both ways. I have a neighbor who is so opposed to the current administration, that he is flying his flag upside down (symbol of distress). To me this is just as bad as the flag burning hippies.

I guess both sides forgot thier history lessons: the flag symbolizes a country in which you have the right to protest the actions of your government, and for that matter change the government through the electoral process - so respect it.

Blazefire - I applaud your desire to retire your flag respectfully. As posted above check with the local Boy Scouts, VFW, etc. Or burn it yourself. (Even if it is just you.)

Moe Greene

May 10th, 2010 at 9:30 AM ^

My dad, who served in Vietnam, would give you a Budweiser for this post.  I'll just stick with a +1 for doing the job right - and flying the flag in the first place.


May 10th, 2010 at 9:59 AM ^

During my reporter days, we were doing a "man on the street" section on the debate over an amendment to ban flag-burning. I did an inside section of flag etiquette and some famous violators (Abbie Hoffman getting in trouble for his US flag shirt vs. Roy Rogers and HIS flag shirt).

I talked to the local American Legion post president and he said they did flag retirement services all the time. But he also said that there was nothing wrong with just tossing the flag in the trash. Put it in a box and tape it closed so people don't see it. He said the reason for the "retirement services" was just a polite way to keep people from being tacky and upsetting everyone as they disposed of a flag. You don't want the thing poking out of the trash where it will upset people. You don't want to burn it over your BBQ where the neighbors get the wrong idea.



May 10th, 2010 at 10:51 AM ^

Many excellent suggestions here; the bottomline for me would be to include the service of an organization whose charter is, or is partially, service to country.  BSA, American Legion, a local veterans' association, even religious affiliated organizations, if you're so inclined, often have a "patriotic arm".  Knights of Columbus is one such organization.  Each of these groups perform flag retirements to my knowledge.  If you can include your family, I feel strongly that it's something every American should experience at least once.  You will appreciate and respect the dignity and integrity of the flag with heightened awareness of its purpose and design.  The Flag is truly a reminder of national purpose, all men and women in uniform fight under it, and we are a nation united under it.  Without it, we're red states and blue states, tea-partiers and leftist ideologues. It's good to remember what Francis Scott Key saw when he drafted the Defence of Fort M'Henry (aka, The Star Spangled Banner):

O! say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


May 10th, 2010 at 10:49 AM ^

Check this out on flag etiquette:


A couple points here.  If you are flying it 24/7 (good for you, I do also) make sure it is lighted sunset to sunrise.  I use two solar lights with sensors to accomplish this.  Also, as soon as a flag becomes at all tattered it should not be flown.  Definitely burn it.  You can do it yourself, but be forewarned that if it has any polyester blend to it, it can be a pain to burn.  Last time I did it I made a good fire in a fire pit (barrell will work) and that worked well.  You'll still have the plastic glob to dispose of once it's all said and done.

Some people take issue with burning the flag because of what they've seen on tv protests.  But, it is in the U.S. Code and what matters is the intent.

Wolverine In Exile

May 10th, 2010 at 10:53 AM ^

As an answer to your question, I was in Boston last week on a work trip and had to drop some post off at the local post office. I noticed for the first time that right outside the post office was a drop box for people to bring their retired flags to for proper disposal. I think it was sponsored by a VFW or Boy Scout troop. So maybe check your local post office group. First time I saw one of these and it made me feel proud that at least someone was still respecting the honors and traditions of this country. I would think this would be a nice Eagle Scout project for someone in an area that doesn't have this type of service. 

Mr. Robot

May 10th, 2010 at 11:00 AM ^

The most common practice is to turn it over to an appropriate organization for burning, as has already been described. Make sure you contact someone with the local BSA first though, as my troop didn't do disposal and you won't want to waste a trip. Any veteran organization should definitely perform that.

Double awesome if you come up with a good way to do it yourself.


May 10th, 2010 at 11:19 AM ^

...the U.S. flag, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight the outstanding work of the Michigan Tri-Service Color Guard.  As a former Color Guard member and executive officer my senior year, the flag raisings and lowerings at football games and parading of the colors at basketball games make up some of my most fond memories of my time at Michigan. The opportunity to enter Michigan Stadium from the tunnel and to be on the field before, during and after the games was tremendously special.

One thing I wish the school would bring back was the method we used when I was in school.  We formed up at the 30 yard line on the visitor's side, marched across the field, executed a column left when even with the flagpole then continued down to the end zone. 

Now, the Color Guard simply forms up adjacent to the end zone on the home side and marches the short distance to the flagpole. I'm sure they changed this when they installed natural grass soon after I graduated.  Now that we have field turf, the old method would work again.

Anyhow, if you want to wish the current iteration of the Tri-Service Color Guard well, you can usually find them at the NROTC tailgate right next to Ferry Field in the Blue RV Lot.  You can also show them and the flag appropriate respect by removing your hat when the national anthem is played and (when we win a big game) by refraining from running through their formation when they're lowering the flag and retiring the colors.


May 10th, 2010 at 11:54 AM ^

Where did you serve, (or are you still active/reserve)? I noted some time ago that you've got an Aegis class cruiser as your avatar. Surface navy, I take it?

I'm happy to see that the NROTC Midshipmen are well-represented in the Tri-Service Color Guard you have pictured here.


May 10th, 2010 at 12:10 PM ^

...and was commissioned in 1989 and have been on active duty or in the Navy Reserve since.  Good catch on my avatar, your ship recognition skills are keen.  The ship is USS NORMANDY (CG 60), one of two ships I served in as a division officer. I'm also an Army brat, so I've been associated with the military in one way or another since birth.


May 10th, 2010 at 1:20 PM ^

Former MOI, Tim Ahles (Capt, USMC) and former AMOI, Brian Lindstrom, (USMC, Ret.)? Tim lives in Ann Arbor and has a business in the Nichols Arcade. Brian retired from the USMC as a Sergeant Major, and lives in Yuma, Arizona.


May 10th, 2010 at 2:13 PM ^

...What's Ahles' place in Nichols? I'll have to stop by next time I'm in town and say hello. If you know the staff from that vintage, then-LT Bob Oldani just retired as CAPT Oldani. His last job was COMNAVSURFLANT COS and I reported to him there.  It was pretty cool to work for the same guy who was my navigation and maritime ops instructor in college.  Oldani also commanded USS MONTEREY (CG 61).


May 10th, 2010 at 11:29 AM ^

Per the most recounted suggestion, I have emailed the local boyscout headmaster (Troop 777) to see if they do flag retirements. If not, there's an American Legion post nearby that I think will.

This whole thread does bring up an extremely important question, though. When the time comes, what exactly is the procedure for retiring J. Lehman's tie?


May 10th, 2010 at 11:41 AM ^

...the somewhat contentious issue of flag clothing and tatoos.  Hardliners believe the flag should never be worn as an article of clothing or as skin art.  Others think as long as the intent is to honor the flag, no harm no foul.  Me, I'm more in the former camp but do often wear t-shirts with the U.S. flag on Independence Day and Memorial Day at appropriate venues.

A bugaboo of mine is when athletes do the obligatory wrapping themselves in Old Glory after a win, but hold it so it's upside down or worse yet, whip it around and drag it across the ground.  If you're going to do it, do it respectfully. 


May 10th, 2010 at 11:53 AM ^

He can wear flag clothing any time he wants.

I have a couple of flag shirts. I think the key is that they are representative of the flag, without actually being the flag. A shirt with a pattern of red and white stripes and white stars on a blue background is fine so long as there aren't 13 red and white stripes in a row and a field of 50 stars. Then it only represents the flag.

Interesting note: the GM symbol for the corvette, and later used, in redesigned state, on several of their other performance vehicles, was originally an American Flag and a Checkered flag crossed. However, hours before the car was unveiled at the Auto Show, somebody realized that violated flag code, and quickly had a new insignia cast, which is today where the iconic fleur de lis and checkered flag comes from.


May 10th, 2010 at 12:49 PM ^

with me;  that the complete image of our flag can be used in any way other than an actual flag.

Somehow it seems marginalized, or marketed, or trivialized. Variations are ok, sure - but when it is an actual flag, screened onto a t-shirt or a hat, I think the messege becomes muddled.








May 10th, 2010 at 12:11 PM ^

And do you normally accuse everyone in your life of being an attention whore because they have something the feel would make a decent topic of conversation, or are you making an exception just for me?

I thought it would spur good conversation (it did), and I thought others might have experience winning people over to the "respect the flag" viewpoint. Deal.


May 10th, 2010 at 12:21 PM ^

I'm willing to bet that at least a few people have learned something from this thread about disposing a flag, whether it's about lighting a flag at night, burning being the proper disposal method, or that local VFW chapters have ceremonies, etc.

But, hey, I bet Blazefire is going to get rich and famous from posting this thread.  Boooooooooo!  We're not your pawns, Blazefire!  Go post somewhere that people actually care about how to honor their country's flag!