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How to Retire a Flag

June 1, 2023

There is hardly a sight so breathtaking to an American as our flag. The symbolism is rich with honor and dignity, and the flag represents the freedom purchased with the blood of patriotic Americans and the untold sacrifices of their families. Over time, the flags we proudly wave begin to show wear, faded and shredded by wind and weather. You may wonder what to do with your old flag when you replace it with a crisp, new flag.

  1. Burning a Flag

    The U.S. Flag Code 1 provides specific directives regarding flags: β€œThe 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.” You may perform your own flag retirement ceremony at home. When you burn the flag, be sure to take a moment of respectful silence and say the Pledge of Allegiance or a prayer. It is also recommended that you carefully gather and bury the ashes.

    Be aware that some flags are made of synthetic or nylon material that can potentially be hazardous if burned. You can take your flag to a local American Legion Post or Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter or a Boy or Girl Scouts of America troop, because they know how to properly and safely burn flags.

    2. Cutting a Flag

Cutting your flag is an approved option for retirement. This is acceptable because once it is cut into pieces, it is no longer considered a flag. The U.S. Scouts Procedure for cutting a flag indicates that you must:

  • Stretch the flag out by its four corners.
  • Cut the flag in half widthwise, being careful not to cut in any part of the blue area. The blue star field symbolizes the union of all 50 states and should not be cut or split apart in any way.
  • Put the two halves together and cut them in half lengthwise.
  • This will leave you with four sections of the flag. Three will be red and white stripes, and one will be the blue star field.
  • Dispose of these pieces of the flag properly, usually through burial or burning.

Some people like to donate used flags to Stars for Our Troops or other groups that cut the stars out of flags and give them to veterans with a note thanking them for their service.

3. Burying a Flag

If you are unable to respectfully burn a retired flag you may conduct a ceremonial burial. Again, this is to be done with a reverent atmosphere and should be buried in a respectful way in a respectful place. For example, you would not want to bury it in a barnyard, but rather a peaceful hill or shady spot under a tree. Carefully fold your flag, place it in a wooden box, and bury it before conducting a short funeral or prayer.

Above all, flags need to be retired in a reverent, patriotic, and respectful way. Our American flag represents so much that we have to be grateful for. If you have any questions about how to retire a flag, feel free to contact us at Keohane Funeral Homes: 617-773-3551. You can also find un online at


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