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Not found in the Flag Code

What the Flag Code doesn’t say

ScreenHunter_251 Jun. 24 15.44

There were a lot of news stories last week about flag retirement ceremonies, held in conjunction with Flag Day. Here are excerpts from three that I found especially troubling due to misinformation.  I edited them to remove names and other identifying information because I like these people and I don’t want to embarrass them: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the American Legion.

What the Flag Code says about retiring our American flag is short and succinct:

§8. Respect for flag:  (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.

We are given great latitude in how we conduct flag retirements. I am very grateful to the organizations that conduct these ceremonies; it is an honorable and welcome service that they perform. But imagine my surprise when I found a news story about a flag retirement ceremony that said this,

“ … the scouts recently participated in a flag retirement ceremony. This ceremony is necessary when a flag has become too worn to be displayed. In these cases, the respectful way to dispose of the  flag is for it to be burned. Only three entities can officially retire a flag. They are VFW posts, Scout troops and American Legion posts.” 

What? That’s not what the Flag Code says. Anyone can retire the flag. The Daughters of the American Revolution would be quite surprised to be told they can’t retire their own flags. I frequently encourage families to have their own flag retirement ceremonies. Get the children to write some sweet script, and take a moment to talk about important flags in American history.  I am willing to trust the average American to retire his own flag. We are all official when it comes to retiring the flag.

From another news story:

 “The various elements of the flag … The stars, the red and white stripes and the blue background are included on the flag for a specific purpose.  Once the description has been read, the flag is cut apart.

The stars are saved and will be presented to veterans at a later date [ … ]. The stripes are individually cut off the flag and placed in a fire. The fire container must only be used for flag retirement and nothing else. During the burning portion of the ceremony, no one is to speak and silence has to be maintained out of respect.  [ … ]  Flags are burned one at a time and only after a flag is completely burned will the next one be burned. Silence is observed throughout the entire ceremony.

In the Flag Code, directly above Subsection (k) is Subsection (j) which says [ … ] The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. [ … .]

If the flag is “considered a living thing,” then dismembering a flag so old and worn out that it’s ready for retirement is rather egregious in my opinion. The flag has already served in honor—now it’s faded, ripped and torn, tattered on the fly.  Isn’t that enough?

And why would cutting out the stars and saving them (set aside to be given away later) be more important than the stripes? The flag was never meant to be parceled out in bits and pieces. That’s why we set it on fire in a ceremony, and burn it to ashes. Otherwise we could be making quilts out of the stripes—or kites, and patriotically flying them on the 4th of July.

Our most popular flag myth

And I read this:

 “ … flags should be retired for a number of reasons. The first indication a flag has become unserviceable is faded colors, but [ … ]  a flag should be retired if it has touched the ground. It’s just been a principle of the flag etiquette for years in the country, which is to keep all flags from touching the ground … . “

“When it comes to proper disposal, [ … ] it’s best to leave it to the experts [said the American Legion commander, who ] discourages anyone from burning their own flag, and invites area residents to turn their worn out flags over to the American Legion or any other veterans organization.”

No where in the Flag Code does it say that if a flag touches the ground, it should be destroyed. Yes, every effort should be made to keep the flag from touching the ground and other things beneath it (landscaping for example, and automobiles at giant car dealerships), but destroying a perfectly good flag is unnecessary, and not supported by the text. I am certain if those who codified the Flag Code meant for us to retire a dropped flag, they would have mentioned it specifically.

Flags fall down. Home flags mounted on diagonal poles are especially vulnerable to being blown out of the mount. The wind can pull one out of your hands while putting it up or taking it down (it’s happened to me). It’s a good idea to have a back up flag, if the flag does get dirty, but it doesn’t have to be destroyed, it just needs to be laundered or sent to the dry cleaners.

From the same newspaper article:

How to properly retire a U.S. flag:  Once a U.S. flag becomes worn, frayed or dirty, the flag is considered unserviceable and unable to properly fly. In order to suitably retire a U.S. or other American national flag, several procedures are to be followed in order to avoid any disrespect or desecration. According to the Veterans Department of Affairs and U.S. Flag Code, here are the steps to burn a flag: (my italics–DH)

1. Prepare a fire large enough to sufficiently burn the entire flag.

2. Fold the flag in a customary triangle manner.

3. Place the flag on the fire carefully and respectfully.

4. Individuals should salute or recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as observe a moment of silence.

5. Allow the flag to be completely consumed.

6. Once the fire is cool, collect the ashes and any pieces of the flag.

7. Bury the ashes.

[The American Legion commander said] “ in order to ensure the flag is disposed properly, the flag must be given to a veteran’s organization. [He] encourages anyone with an unserviceable flag to donate it to any local American Legion post.

The Department of Veterans Affairs compiled a 52-page booklet about American history, veterans, the flag, and the scope of the department. No where in the booklet does it say anything about flag retirement ceremonies except to repeat the same section from the Flag Code:

§8. Respect for flag:  (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.

Lastly, from the American Legion’s own website, in a section called Flag Myths, it identifies this myth:

You must destroy the flag when it touches the ground.
As long as the flag remains suitable for display, the flag may continue to be displayed as a symbol of our great country.

As I said at the beginning, I am grateful to civic and service organizations who perform the job of retiring our American flags. It’s an important service and it’s a big job, too. And they can choose any ceremony they want, but please make sure your script says, “This is how we like to retire the flag,” because it’s highly inappropriate and misleading to say “this is what the Flag Code says” when it doesn’t.

And don’t tell me I can’t retire my own flag.













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Presenting the Colors—how to conduct a flag ceremony indoors

Yesterday I received an email through the contact page asking:

Can you tell me if there is a ceremonial procedure for carrying the flag from one end of a room to another for posting prior to the start of a meeting?

I sent an answer to CD, but my response bounced right back to me. There’s a server problem on the other end, and CD may not even know it. I want to answer here, and hope that CD sees it.

We often think that we need people in uniforms (Boy Scouts, ROTC, et cetera) to present the colors, and certainly that is a traditional and customary way to do it, but any of us can present the colors. I’m sure the Daughters of the American Revolution must do their own flag presentations. To my knowledge, there are no specific rules within the U.S. Code on how to present the colors. So this is my suggestion, and it relies heavily on military tradition and instructions for Boy Scout.

The person in charge of the event should ask all there to please stand. "All rise," and when everyone is standing (who are able), then "Color Guard, please present the colors."

The U.S. flag is always carried aloft and free, never flat or horizontally. If the U.S. flag is the only flag carried, it should have an honor guard to its left, or two honor guards, one on each side.

When carried with other flags, as in a straight line abreast, the U.S. flag is carried on its own right side—all the way to the right—of other flags.

Sometimes when a lot of flags (usually five or more) are carried, then the U.S. flag is positioned in the center and in front (one or two steps) of the other flags, or the other flags are carried slightly lower than the U.S. flag so that the U.S. flag is prominent.

DKH_21If a state flag is presented too, then the state flag is positioned to the immediate left of the U.S. flag, then civic, club, or corporate flag to the left of the state flag (and those are determined by chronological order of their historic or original charter—just like state flags).

As the color guard comes down the approach, the flag stands having been pre-positioned, the party will slow or even come to a stop. The U.S. flag goes first, turning left and crossing in front of the other flags and is placed first into the flag stand, then the other flags go in order after that.

Frequently the U.S. flag will be on the one side (the right side as it faces the audience) of the stage or platform, with the state flag on the other side, but they don’t have to be separated. Just remember that the U.S. flag is always to the right of the arrangement when in final position and facing the audience.

Usually in a group setting, everyone will salute the flag at the beginning and hold it until the flags are returned to the flag stands (and Boy Scouts will be given the order to salute), but if the venue is large, then one salutes the flag as it passes abreast of your position, and holds the salute until the flag has cleared your position.

All the usual and customary rules apply for saluting.

In a Boy Scout flag ceremony, the Scouts will recite the Pledge of Allegiance before "posting" the colors, or putting the flag back into the flag stand. The color guard will be facing the audience and the person in charge of the event will say (for example), "Will you please join me in the Pledge of Allegiance." When finished, the flags will be inserted into the flag stands.

But the flags could be placed first, and then recite the Pledge. Depending on the ceremony, someone might be invited on-stage to lead the Pledge, which would be a lovely way of giving special recognition.

Here is an entry on The Daily Flag from February 5, 2008, that links to a color guard ceremony in Hawaii that is uncomplicated and beautiful.

The image used above comes from

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Veterans, Scouts, Flags, and flowers

I lost count of the Memorial Day stories that came into my feed reader, but I “starred” about two dozen that combined the words “Boy Scouts, “flags,” and “Memorial Day.” I thought I’d try to count the numbers of Scouts (Girl Scouts, too), and the number of veterans graves that the Scouts decorated with flags (and flowers in some cases), but when the number of Scouts went over 5000, I stopped counting. And that’s from newspapers and television stations which enable their stories for internet access—and for every news outlet that does, there must be ten that don’t.

In Hawaii, Scouts and others decorated the veterans graves with an American flag, and then placed a lei around each headstone. The Girls Scouts decorated the cemetery chapel with flowers. This is very special, because Memorial Day originated with “Decoration Day, which began when women placed flowers on the graves of the soldiers who died in the War between the States.

Here is a story from television station KHNL in Honolulu, Hawaii, about Memorial Day at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

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Flag retirement ceremony at Gerber B.S.A. Camp

Last week I asked for readers to send photos from flag retirement ceremonies. Our friend Dave Jung sent these photos from B.S.A. Troop 331, in the Gerald R. Ford Council from Grand Rapids, Michigan. The photos were taken during their January “Polar Bear Campout” at Gerber BSA Camp.

Dave reported that as the heat rose from the flames, it had the unintended consequence of melting the snow caught in the tree branches around their fire. The falling clumps of snow added a bit of merriment to the otherwise solemn occasion.

I’m sure the memories of this flag-retirement ceremony will last these Scouts for a lifetime.

from the Polar Bear Campout

Older Scouts begin the ceremony by explaining why the flags are retired
from the Polar Bear Campout, #2

Scouts prepare an old flag to be placed upon the flames
from the Polar Bear Campout #3

A large flag is laid upon the fire
Polar Bear Campout #4

An old flag is consumed by the fire in a flag retirement ceremony conducted by B.S.A. Troop 331.
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Flag retirement ceremonies

Flag retirement ceremony

Flag Retirement Ceremony conducted by VFW Post 8573 in Sattler, Texas.

Flag retirement ceremonies are most often conducted by veterans organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, or the Boy Scouts. But of course, any group or individual can retire a flag. The whole point of retiring a flag is a proper and honorable disposal.

I wonder if any of The Daily Flag readers ever witnessed or participated in a military retirement ceremony? I am sure that each of the services would have well-documented procedures for flag retirement. However, I can’t help thinking that there would be a long list of names of military personnel who would want a flag from the base, post, or ship where they served, even if the flags were no longer suitable for flying.

(Hold that thought while I telephone my favorite veteran to ask … He said “yes,” and in hindsight he perhaps would have liked a keepsake flag that flew where he served, but replacing a tattered flag was never a part of his job so the flags did not pass through his hands, and he simply never thought about it at the time.)

My request

Where I am going with this: I would like for readers of The Daily Flag to send us notes and photos from flag retirement ceremonies they have observed or participated in. My idea is to create a reference tool with ideas and suggestions for others. I would especially like to see how fire pits or free standing fire stands were constructed.

Along with the good ideas, there logically must be a list of bad ideas. For example: If there were a lot of flags to dispose of, in a too small a receptacle (or under-fueled), it would take a long time. Or maybe events when too much “accelerant” was used. These occasions need to be shared, too, if we are to learn. But I promise to be diplomatic, discreet, and circumspect if it was a disaster.

Send your information or photos to Deborah “at”

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Canyon Lake Eagle Scouts

How do you quantify the well-being of a community? Here’s one way.

The Canyon Lake Times Guardian
canyonlakeeagles.jpgWhat do you call a large group of birds sighted near Canyon Lake? A Flock of Eagles!!!!

That is exactly what was witnessed on Saturday, March 3, 2008, at a special rare event of an Eight Eagles Scout Court of Honor for Varsity Scouts Troop 441. Held at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints chapel located off of 3159 FM towards Statzville. This spectacle event kicked off around 6pm.

Eight Eagles and their projects:
The following Eight Young Men achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank offered by the Boy Scouts of America. Listed are descriptions of their community service projects, a major requirement to demonstrate their leadership and service skills.

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The Daily Flag News—February 14, 2008

Flying the U.S. flag in a remote location brings a particular set of challenges. The city of Hampton, Pennsylvania discovered that lighting a large flag where no electricity exists is costly. The engineering department is considering alternate methods to replace the diesel-powered electric generator that powers the floodlight.

Trying to keep the flag lit before dawn’s early light —
fortwoolflag.jpgHAMPTON – — Keeping a giant flag lit at Fort Wool requires a city Parks & Recreation employee to drive a boat to the rocky spit of an island twice each week.

Once at the island, the employee pours diesel fuel into a portable generator, similar to those on a trailer that you might see at a work site.

The flag is a giant beacon standing tall above the island, a welcome symbol to both ships entering Hampton Roads and the 108,000 drivers who pass over the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel each day. It took politicians and citizens three years to raise money and sort through the proper permits to erect the flag. It flew for the first time July 9. Keeping the flag lit, however, is a continuing saga.

The Bonnie Blue flag has a long and storied history across many states. Along with a history lesson, this article includes the words to a Confederate song about the flag.

Dixie Historical Society: Brief history of the Bonnie Blue Flag
dhs_bonnieblue.png1836-1839 – The Bonnie Blue Flag was adopted by Texicans during the Texas War for Independence against Mexico. According to some reports, the Bonnie Blue Flag was brought to Texas in 1835 by Louisiana volunteers, and many Louisianans claim that “We hung the Star over Texas!” There were several variations of the Bonnie Blue Flag during the fight for Texas’ Independence, the “Burnet Flag” being the most common variant. The Burnet Flag used a yellow star, as opposed to a white one. In 1839 the Bonnie Blue served as a basis for the official flag of the Republic of Texas, and it came to be known as the Lone Star Flag.

California Troop 249 embodies classic Scouting: adventure, exploring, self-discipline, and fun. Some of my fondest memories as a Scoutmaster include mountain hiking the Pecos Wilderness of northern New Mexico.

Troop 249 Day Hike to Point Mugu Peak summit : Camarillo : Ventura County Star
brian_gravelletroop249.JPGOn a recent Sunday afternoon, members of Camarillo Boy Scout Troop 249, along with several parents, hiked up to the summit of Point Mugu peak. They began their half-day trek at the La Jolla Canyon trailhead just of the Pacific Coast Highway. The approximate 5-mile round trip made for a pleasant yet challenging day hike. On the ascent, the trail consisted of sections of gradual to steep slopes interspersed with fairly level or slightly down-hill stretches.

This 13-star flag is still in good shape. As mentioned before, old flags always catches my eye. Historic flags give a great view of our past and remind us of the path to the future. I can’t believe how good of shape this one is in.

Worcester Telegram & Gazette News
theshawflag13-star.jpgNEW LONDON, Conn.— It’s not that the New London County Historical Society didn’t appreciate the antique 13-star American flag — made of faded white and red silk ribbons hand-stitched together — that’s long been part of its collection.

In fact, a few years ago, after being prompted by a visiting scholar who worried about the precarious way the flag was hung sandwiched between two pieces of old glass, the society had it restored at the textile lab at the University of Rhode Island and reframed.

In 2006 the society gave the flag an important place in an exhibit marking the 225th anniversary of the burning of New London, and it still hangs prominently over the mantle in a front parlor of the Shaw Mansion in downtown New London.

Burning a Norwegian flag in Norway has been legal, but now you can burn an American flag without penalty, as well. The long-standing law against burning flags from other countries has been struck down. I just thought you should know.

Flag-burning no longer illegal –
norwayflagburning.jpgThe Norwegian parliament has decided to completely decriminalize the burning of flags in Norway, to promote freedom of expression.

It’s long been allowed to burn the Norwegian flag in Norway. Now the parliament’s justice committee has unanimously agreed to decriminalize the burning of other country’s flags in Norway.

“For us, freedom of expression is the most important,” said deputy leader of the justic committee Jan Arild Ellingsen of the Progress Party, Norway’s most conservative political party. Ellingsen nonetheless said he understands that many Norwegians still see flag-burning as unacceptable.

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The Daily Flag News—February 6, 2008

More than 3,000 Texas state Boy Scouts converged on the State Capitol and grounds in Austin on February 2 for their annual meeting with the Governor. The fifty-eighth annual event’s theme was Community Service and their meeting with Eagle Scout Rick Perry (also known as the Governor) went very well. The Austin American-Statesman has some great video of the event, showing all the boys and the fun they had Saturday.

John L. Kovach, Jr. is the major influence in Pittsburgh setting up a public flag retirement facility in a local park allowing civic groups and local residents the ability to retire their flags from service. Kovach tells his story at the website War, Peace, Tolerance and Our Soldiers. The article can serve as a blueprint for other cities looking to provide a unique service for it’s citizens. The best part … it’s right next to the Boy Scout meeting facility.

More and more cities are trying to get a handle on run-away signs and Brunswick, Georgia is no different. The city recently passed a new sign ordinance and within a few weeks gave tickets to two local businessmen because they were flying the U.S. flag at their car lots. There is more to the story available from the local newspaper.

The Brunswick News
Gary Hudginsflag Gary Hudgins never thought his love of the American flag would land him in Glynn County Magistrate Court.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Hudgins, owner of the Carl Gregory car dealership at 5400 Altama Ave., Glynn County, has decorated every car at his dealership with an American flag. Not anymore.

On Friday, a Glynn County code enforcement officer told Hudgins the flags were in violation of a county sign ordinance adopted this past November and handed him a citation. Two weeks before, Hudgins was sent a letter from Glynn County Code Enforcement informing him of the new ordinance, which prohibits the display of banners, flags and portable signs.

 Rayond Jacobs, the last living Marine in the Iwo Jima photograph, has died at the age of 82 on January 29, 2008. Honorable discharged in 1946, Jacobs spent many years proving he was the radioman in the famous raising of the American flag, and negatives from the roll of film clearly show his participation. Jacobs retired in 1992 as a reporter for the television station, KTVU-TV in Oakland, California.

Flag raising on Iwo Jima
February 23, 1945
War and Conflict #1221  FlagRaisedonIwoJima

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Boy Scout’s Motivation is Popping

Sometimes it’s all in the motivation and for Kenny Standridge, it adds up to $28,000+. I never realized all the benefits to participating at the top level in the national Boy Scout popcorn sales, but they are substantial. Doing a little math tells me that at $30,000 in sales, Kenny will earn $9,000 for college, $12,000 for him and Troop 58, and a Hummer limousine for the day courtesy of Mom.

That’s something special!

The Herald-Zeitung
kennystandridge_popcorn.jpgIf you see 11-year-old Kenny Standridge cruising around Spring Branch in a Hummer limousine, you’ll know Texas holds the record for the most popcorn sold by a boy scout.

Kenny, a member of the Alamo Area Council, Troop 58, has sold $28,000 worth of popcorn for the Boy Scouts of America’s nationwide fundraiser and is the top seller in the region, which encompasses 11 states.

But to capture the national title, Kenny needs to edge out his competition — a Californian scout who has raised $30,000 — by Jan. 31.

“We’re hoping to get Texas excited about how the state can win the national ranking,” said Kenny’s mom, Debbie Honeycutt.