How to Properly Retire a U.S. Flag - ITS Tactical

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How to Properly Retire a U.S. Flag

By Bryan Black

American Flags

In our last look at Old Glory, we presented A Patriotic Look at the U.S. Flag Code. Today, we’d like to follow up that article with how to properly retire a U.S. Flag.

If you look into the Flag Code, you’ll find that the only mention of retiring a flag is to “Always dispose of a worn flag properly, preferably by burning it.” The rest is up to interpretation and people’s beliefs.

In our opinion, as long as a flag is retired with respect, there’s really not a wrong way to retire one. What we’ll show you today is a flag retirement ceremony that my son’s Boy Scout troop recently conducted and some other ways that have been known to retire flags.

When to Retire a Flag

When a U.S. Flag becomes worn, torn, faded or badly soiled, it’s time to replace it with a new flag. One thing to make clear is that when you’re retiring a flag, you should refer to it as mentioned and not call it burning a flag. It’s retiring a flag, not burning it.

It’s understandable that the Flag Code mentions burning, as it needs to be stated, but if it’s understood that the flag will be incinerated please refer to it as retiring. You don’t want any kids that might be in attendance to go home and tell mom and dad that they burned a flag.

How to Retire a Flag

In the video you’ll see below, our Boy Scout troop cuts the union out of the flag and retires that section first. There are many different ways to retire a flag and to us, none are wrong as long as they’re done with respect. A flag ceases to be a flag when it is cut into pieces and we’re of the opinion that the Union should never be broken by cutting individual stars, but that’s up to those conducting the retirement ceremony.

If a flag is cut up stripe by stripe or star by star, do so with a knife or scissors, don’t simply tear it like an old shirt.

There are some organizations that say the names of the 13 original colonies in order as the separated stripes are being incinerated and save the Union for last. Those 13 original colonies in order (in case you forgot) are Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island. Others feel that each state is equal and all names should be read. Again it’s totally up to interpretation and each individual ceremony.


A ceremony can be anything from a moment of silence while the flag is incinerated, to a large ordeal that encompasses the pledge of allegiance and some remarks on the flag itself. These can be where it was flown, for how long, any memorable events, etc.

What you wont see in the flag ceremony video below is our flag raising where the pledge of allegiance was said, or the lowering. Remember that you can always bring your old and worn out flags to your local Boy Scout troop who will retire them for you properly.

Please don’t simply throw out your flags. Have some respect for the historical significance and as we mentioned in the last article, only buy flags that are made in the USA!

Ceremony Speech

Here are the words that are spoken in the video below, it’s one that I’ve always loved:


Remember me?

Some people call me “Old Glory”

Others call me the “Star Spangled Banner”

But whatever they call me, I am your Flag,

The Flag of the United States of America….

Something has been bothering me, so I thought I might talk it over with you… because it is about you…. and me.

I remember some time ago people lined up on both sides of the street to watch a parade, and naturally I was leading every parade, proudly waving in the breeze. When your Daddy saw me coming, he immediately removed his hat and placed it against his left shoulder, so that his hand was directly over his heart… Remember?

And you, I remember you. Standing there straight as a soldier. You didn’t have a hat, but you were giving the right salute. Remember little sister? Not to be outdone, she was saluting the same as you, with her hand over her heart…. Remember?

What happened? I’m still the same old flag. Oh, I have a few more stars now and a lot more blood has been shed since those days long ago. But now I don’t feel as proud as I used to. When I come down the street you just stand there with your hands in your pockets, and I may get a small glance, but then you look away.

Then I see children running around and shouting; they don’t seem to know who I am…. I saw one man take off his hat, then he looked around and saw no one else with their hat off, so he quickly put his hat back on.

Is it a sin to be patriotic now? Have you forgotten what I stand for? And where I’ve been? Anzio…. Normandy… Guadal Canal…. Iwo Jima….. Korea…..Vietnam…. and the Persian Gulf?

Take a look at the Memorial Honor Rolls sometime. Note the names of those who never came back; they died to keep this republic free… One Nation Under God!

When you salute me… you are actually saluting them.

Well, it won’t be long now until I’ll be coming down your street again…. So when you see me, stand straight, place you right hand over you heart, and I’ll salute you by waiving back…. and I’ll know….


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  • Greg G

    My mom’s flag has 48 stars is that alright or should she get a new modern one? As always good info guys.

    • Jim G.

      Greg, according to the flag code, all previous US flags are still recognized. Assuming it’s in good condition, there’s no reason not to keep using it, although mom may want to get a new one just to have the current one.

  • Awesome! Great to see the flag get the respect she deserves.
    Very nice write up; I’m definitely going to show this to my young son.

  • George

    Bully for you for your excellent article. Respect for the symbol of this great country is all we have. Do not wear “flag” clothing. It’s a disrespectful act.


    • Mollie Bug

      I agree. Most of my friends think the best way to show patriotism is wearing it! like my friend
      Anna* we had to right an essay on how to show patriotism and she said, By wearing clothes that have flags on them.
      *not her real name

  • 5Solas

    Bryan, thanks for the article…brings back fond memories of many flag retirement ceremonies my troop did while I was a Scout. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a Troop where I’m at advertise one since…

  • Roger

    I noticed that someone else mentioned a 48-star flag. I have one of those that has been in my family for years. It is made from some type of heavy cloth, not nylon like newer flags. It is intact, not torn, but it seems very fragile. I would not risk flying it because it would probably rip. It also has kind of an aged, dark, almost dirty tinge to it, but I am afraid of having it cleaned for the same reason. I don’t want to give this flag up, but is there a safe way to get it looking good again?

    • Edward

      Roger, I also have a flag with 48 stars just like yours! I found it in my grandma’s attic in a trunk. The flag looked fragile so I left it in the trunk and took it to see how much it was worth. It wasn’t as much as I thought it would be but the expert that i took it to said that it may be worth a lot more years down the road. If i were you, I would keep it not because of its value but because of it history and nationalistic pride. Maybe you can pass it on to your children when you get older and keep it in the family. Cya

    • Lorene Lamb

      Perhaps a flag company could safely clean it for you, Roger, before a long storage? It may deteriorate if left “dirty.” Maybe a dry cleaner?

    • Grillsgt

      I would check with a dry cleaners they have worked miracles for me with drapery

  • Jake

    Great article, i have another question tho… what are we supposed to do with the ashes?

    • brian

      Jake,what to do with the ashes is up to JROTC and the Marine Corps. i learned all about our flag and her rules and standards.and man,the beautiful gal has got a lot of em.hahaha.and ive been keeping my family educated about and informed on the flag code ever since.what you do with the ashes is up to you.treat it with love and honor,like you would the body or ashes of any friend or loved one.spread them,bury them,box them,release them to the breeze.though in my opinion…i would never box them the spirit of ol’ glory,just as the flag herself should be free.i have never seen her ashes sitting in a box.but in the end that part is up to you.

    • Tom Throgmorton

      I thought you were to burn the flag, pick out the brass eyelets- bury the ashes in one place and the eyelets in an other.

  • Augusto A Gorgueiro

    May long it wave over the land of the free
    to remind us of the sacrifices men and women
    have made to keep us free.

  • michaele Pittman

    I found part of a flag. It only has stars on it. what should I do with it?

    • Antonio Fernandez

      Bring it to a local VFW or American Legion.

  • Will

    I might be wrong but i heard the stripes were cut indovidually and the stars were next. If im wrong then beautiful job retiring the flag i love.

  • carl lanterman

    “…there’s really not a wrong way to retire a flag other than doing so with respect.”
    Study your English. Retiring a flag with respect is the only wrong way to retire a flag?
    Please rephrase your statement.

    • Thanks for the catch. You might want to research manners a bit while I look into that English stuff 🙂

  • I stil get chills and tears in my eyes each time I see the U.S. Flag come by or even I see it . It reminds me of the men I fought with in Viet Nam and how the Nation was burning it while we were proudly fighting for it and the freedom we had and the virtenense people did not have

  • Jane

    Is it proper to dunk an American flag into diesel fuel (or some other type of fire accelerant) before putting the flag into the fire?

  • Frontier Girls troop 148

    This will be the first time I preform a flag retirement ceremony and while looking for information I came across this site. I read this whole article and can I say, “WOW!” It made me stop and think about how things have changed since I was a kid about giving respect to the flag. The words spoken we hit so close to home it gave me pause. When we preform our ceremony this year I will be handing out and sharing the information with others in my organization from your site. Your ceremony was perfect we are going to do it the way it was done here.
    Frontier Girls troop 148

  • AggieEagle

    @Jane  No, according to flag code, the only thing that should be put into the fire at the point of retirement should be the flag. There should not be any diesel, kerosine, etc. that the flag has been soaked in. The flag will provide itself fuel as it is being retired. I have performed numerous flag retirement ceremonies and have retired more than 15,000 flags in my Boy Scout Troop. We go over the flag code every ceremony and they mention about the only thing that goes into the fire should be the flag.-Eagle Scout from Troop 262 Gonzales, Tx.

  • RondaJChaddic

    I know it’s the how we retire a flag . But it made me cry while watching the video .

  • RondaJChaddic

    @Larry J. Jordan Sr. SGT U.S. Marine Corp Viet Nam  I know it’s the how we retire a flag . But it made me cry while watching the video .

  • MarkFosterJr Life Scout

    Very nice video..!!!

  • P O 3rd class firemasted

    U.S.Navy Veteran 1974 – 1976, P.O. 3rd class .  RE-inlistnent class 2.
    i hold a duly form of Honorable Discharge from The United States Armed Forces / U.S. Navy.

    i will fight and protect my flag as do my god and country. at my time of discharge i was never relieved of my sworn duties,

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