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Touch the Ground—Burn the Flag?


The Myth

If the flag touches the ground, it must be burned!

I’m not sure where this myth started, but I’ve heard it most of my life. In recent days, with all the focus on the flag and flag etiquette because of former President Ford’s death, I have noticed several articles in papers across the United States quoting this as fact.

The Fact

To be clear, here is the text from the United States Flag Code in Title 4; Chapter1; Section 8(b):

(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the
ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.

This part of the code is in the “Respect the Flag” section and clearly indicates the carefulness someone should take in displaying the flag with particular attention paid to the surroundings. If the flag touches any of the mentioned items, it should be resolved quickly.

The Confusion

I think the confusion comes from Section 8(k), where the code indicates;

(k) 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.

This is a clear reference to the physical condition of the flag, and indeed, a tattered or worn and faded flag should never be flown, out of respect. This section clearly states that when the flag is in “such condition” which is never fully defined in the code, but the US flag code never indicates this policy for a flag inadvertently touching the ground.

Always fly the flag with respect and when necessary, dispose of the flag in a dignified manner.

4 thoughts on “Touch the Ground—Burn the Flag?

  1. Most VFW and American Legion Posts conduct flag retirement ceremonies where the flags are burned in a respecful manner and the ashes placed in a seperate area of the Post. You do not have to wait for the special days, you can drop off your old / unuseable flags at the Posts at anytime during the year and they will hold them for the ceremony.

    I have heard that Boy Scout Troops also conduct a ceremony for flag retirements. Though I think it is easier to find a VFW than a Boy Scout Troop.

    BTW This is a great looking site and the flags are very reasonable. Thanks.

  2. John, Thanks for the comment. It is appreciated.

    Yes. We have several local VFW and Scout troops we want to approach with that proposition.

    One of our ideas it to offer flag disposal for our customers. The details have to be worked out, but in conjunction with these local groups, it would allow tired flags to be retired with honor.

    We held several such ceremonies while I was a Scoutmaster, and it is really a special event to participate in.

    We’ll write an article when we get the details worked out.

  3. I keep reading that the American flag should never touch the ground but I can not find the reasoning behind that statement. Can you please tell me why the American flag should not touch the ground other than out of respect for our American flag? I have heard that it is a sign of defeat, a sign of disrespect for America, etc….

    1. Ms. Jay—you have essentially answered your own question. It is precisely out of respect, honor, love and affection—it may be a different combination for some people—that we choose to treat the flag with great care. Things that are important to us, things that can be ruined or destroyed, we try to keep from touching the ground. Those who want to insult, discourage, or somehow defeat another country, will generally attack that country’s national emblem as part of their first actions.

      There have been some exceptions. I have seen a photograph in the National Archives that was taken during WWII. A forward American company on an island was being shelled by American ships offshore. They staked out the largest American flag they had on the hillside, in hopes that the artillery spotters would see it though their spotting scopes, and direct the fire elsewhere. It worked!

      Thank you for writing. Best Wishes, Deborah

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