The Purpose of Flag Retirement Ceremonies

The American flag represents the United States of America, and is recognized as symbol of freedom and justice worldwide. Each part of the flag holds significance. The red represents hardiness and valor, the white for purity, and the blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice. The thirteen stripes represent the original thirteen colonies, when America declared its independence on July 4, 1776, while the fifty stars represent each state in the Union.

It raises an important question, what is the appropriate way to dispose of an American flag that become worn down or torn with the passage of time and rough weather? The answer comes from The U.S. Flag Code that states, “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.” When an American flag is worn beyond repair, it should be retired in a respectful manner.

At a flag retirement ceremony, small American flags are typically retired in one folded piece, larger flags are cut into smaller pieces. With the help of volunteers, a large flag will be stretched out between them, never touching the ground. A single volunteer will cut each stripe away while the blue rectangle of the flag is left untouched. The blue square with the fifty stars represents the Union, something that must never be shattered. Once the flag is separated into its appropriate pieces, they are placed, one by one, onto the fire. Each person who does so must face the fire, stand at attention, and salute in a brief moment of silence. Scouts are required to maintain watch over each piece until they are completely burned away. Once the fire has died out, the remaining ashes of the flags are buried. At the close of a flag retirement ceremony, Taps is typically played by a single bugle or trumpet, while a moment of silence is held by volunteers and the audience to mark the retiring of the flag.

If you have not had the opportunity to attend a flag retirement ceremony before, please take the time to watch the above video to see an in-depth look at a flag retirement ceremony held at Woodruff Scout Camp.