The Flag Code

Retiring the United States Flag from Service
'The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning." (The United States Flag Code) The flag should be burned at a private, non-public location. Conditions of deterioration include fading, shredding, ripping, dirt and grime that cannot be cleaned, and torn or damaged halyards and grommets that cannot be repaired.

In many American communities, one or more organizations render an important community service by collecting and overseeing the proper disposal of flags. For information in your community, try the Boy Scouts of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the American Legion. If they provide a flag retirement service, the flag can be dropped off and they will perform the ceremony for several flags at the same time.

A flag retirement ceremony may also be a family activity. It provides an opportunity to teach and instruct. If retiring the flag as a family, the following steps might be considered:

1. Gather the family around. Raise the flag on the pole or staff or hold it aloft by hand.

2. Call the group to attention. Salute and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.

3. The leader might say something like, "This flag has served its nation well and long. It is now worn to a condition in which it should no longer be used to represent the nation. We pay honor to this flag for the service it has rendered.

4. Fold the flag according to procedures explained on this site. Folding the Flag

5. Give the flag to the group leader who will burn it until it is completely consumed.

Folding the Flag
To properly fold the U.S. Flag, follow these steps:
1. Two people face each other, each holding one end of the flag. Stretch it horizontally at waist height and fold in half lengthwise, with the blue field facing down.

2. Again, fold the flag in half lengthwise. The union (stars) should now be on both sides of the fold.

3. One person holds the flag by the union while the other starts at the opposite end by making a triangular fold.

4. Continue to fold the flag in triangles from the stripes end until only the blue field with stars is showing.

5. If the hoist is showing and overlapping the blue field it may be tucked in under the outer layer of the blue field. The hoist is the edge of the flag attached to the halyard (rope).

How the Flag is NOT to be Used
The United States Flag Code, first adopted in 1923 and later amended, prescribes flag etiquette for a variety of situations ensuring our national symbol a position of honor and respect. The Flag Code is not law, but a guide for civilians who wish to properly honor the United States of AmericaÕs principal emblem.

Each military branch has its own flag code; therefore, on matters concerning military flag etiquette, National Flag Foundation recommends that you consult the specific branchÕs code.

The Flag Code, which formalizes and unifies the traditional ways in which we give respect to the flag, also contains specific instructions on how the flag is not to be used.

They are:

  • The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing.
  • The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
  • The flag should not be used as a drapery or for covering a speaker's desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general, including statues and monuments. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on top.
  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Never use it as part of a costume or athletic uniform.
  • However, it is proper to attach a flag patch to the uniform of military personnel, fire fighters, police officers and members of other patriotic organizations -- provided the patch is properly affixed.
  • Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard. The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, work, number, figure, or drawing of any kind. The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.
  • The flag should never be soiled. It is to be cleaned and mended when necessary. The flag may be laundered or dry-cleaned.
  • When a flag is so worn (tattered, ripped, faded) it is no longer fit to serve as the symbol of our country, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning. See: Flag Retirement

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