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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