When and How to retire American Flags

Retire the American Flag properly

Protocols on when and how to retire an old or worn out American Flag:  Follow the protocols set forth in the United States Flag Code.

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 the flag endures circumstances such as tattering, staining, fading, tearing, or defacement it is necessary to have the United States flag destroyed. Destroying the flag by burning assures that it will not wind up atop a trash heap at the dump. 

An actual procedure for destroying the flag is not specified in the Flag Code. One should use common sense making sure the procedure is in good taste and shows no disrespect for the flag.

Where should I take my old American Flag?

Check with the following organizations to determine if a community service point of collection is set up to receive old worn out flags in your hometown: American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America, Mayor, City Hall or other patriotic organizations.

Ceremony of final tribute to the American Flag

This ceremony should be conducted at a private, non-public location.

  • Only one Flag, representing all those to be destroyed, should be used in the ceremony.
  • Two color guards should be used at evening retreat, one for the Flag currently in use and a special color guard for the Flag to be permanently retired.
  • Just before sunset, the Flag that has been flying all day is retired in the normal, ceremonial procedure for the group or site.
  • The color guard responsible for the Flag receiving the final tribute moves front and center. The leader should present this color guard with the Flag that has been selected for its final tribute and subsequent destruction. The leader then should instruct the color guard to "hoist the colors".
  • When the Flag has been secured at the top of the pole, the leader comments:
  • "This Flag has served its nation long and well. It has worn to a condition to which it should no longer be used to represent the nation. This Flag represents all of the Flags collected and being retired from service today. We honor them all as we salute one Flag."
  • The leader then calls the group to attention, orders a salute, leads the entire group in the "Pledge of Allegiance" and orders the Flag retired by the color guard.
  • Slowly and ceremoniously, the flag is lowered, and then respectfully folded in the customary triangle. The Flag is delivered to the leader and then the group is dismissed.

Ceremonial burning of the American Flag

This ceremony should be conducted at a private, non-public location.

  • The burning of a Flag should take place at a campfire in a ceremony separate from the Ceremony of Final Tribute. The fire must be sizable (preferably having burnt down to a bed of red hot coals to avoid having bits of the Flag being carried off by a roaring fire), yet be of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning.
  • Before the ceremony begins, the color guard assigned to the Flag opens up its tri-corner fold and then refolds it in a coffin-shaped rectangle.
  • When all is ready: All assemble around the fire. The leader calls the group to attention.
  • The color guard comes forward and places the Flag on the fire.
  • All briskly salute.
  • After the salute, but while still at attention, the leader should conduct a respectful educational program as the Flag burns: e.g. singing of "God Bless America"; offering an inspiring message of the Flag's meaning followed by the "Pledge of Allegiance"; performing a reading about the Flag; reciting the "American's Creed"; etc.
  • When the Flag is consumed, those assembled, with the exception of a leader and the color guard should be dismissed. They should be led out in single file and in silence.
  • The leader and color guard should remain to ensure that the Flag is completely consumed, and to burn additional Flags, if any.
  • The fire should then be safely extinguished.