A Simple Flag Retirement Ceremony

When Should a Flag Retirement Ceremony Be Held?

The United States Flag Code states, “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.” Some people will say that you must do it this way or that way, but according to the United States Flag Code, it just needs to be done with dignity.

This simple flag retirement ceremony is appropriate for use with Cub Scouts. Take some time beforehand to explain that this is a dignified ceremony and they should try to stay as quiet and respectful as possible during it. It is a very short ceremony, but it probably won’t seem that way to young Cub Scouts.

This ceremony is simple enough for Webelos to do it while working on their Building a Better World adventure.

Synthetic Flags

For synthetic flags, consider burying them instead or find a location which accepts these flags for disposal. Synthetic flags can let off toxic fumes when burned. Burying a flag is also a respectful option. You can still use most of the ceremony below.

Flag Retirement Ceremony (Simple)

This simple ceremony is appropriate to teach Cub Scouts how to retire an American flag which has become too worn for service.

Materials:

A United States flag which is no longer suitable for display

fire, prepared ahead of time

Ceremony

MC: We have come together to dispose of a flag which is no longer serviceable. This flag has served as a reminder of our nation and those who have defended our freedom. It has served us well.

MC: The United States Flag Code states: “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.”

MC: Please bring the flag forward and display it one last time.

Two Scouts bring the flag forward, unfold it, and hold it so it is properly displayed to the audience. If the flag has a special significance or history, it should be mentioned.

MC : Please join me in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Say the Pledge of Allegiance

MC: Please fold the flag.

The Scouts fold the flag properly. Young Scouts might need assistance from a leader.

MC: We ask that everyone maintain a respectful silence as this flag is retired. Please retire the flag.

A leader places the flag carefully in the fire. The audience waits in silence until the flag is completely consumed by the fire.

MC: Thank you for joining us for this solemn ceremony. God bless America!

Related Resources

What to Do with the Grommets

When the flag is retired by fire, the metal grommets will remain. Here are some meaningful ways to use the grommets.

How to Fold a US Flag

Folding a flag is not complicated, but if your Scouts don’t do it regularly, then practice it beforehand.

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Comments

22 responses to “A Simple Flag Retirement Ceremony”

  1. love Avatar
  2. becky reed Avatar
    becky reed

    how would you handle multiple (15) flags to retire??

    1. Scouter Mom Avatar

      Burn them one at a time. Wait until the one in the fire has been completely consumed before you add another. We usually do multiple flags. It doesn’t take as long as you might think.

      1. john Avatar
        john

        but the fire gets really hot

    2. john g sheehan Avatar
      john g sheehan

      15 pairs of scouts or three ceremonies

    3. Chad Brandt Avatar
      Chad Brandt

      We start with the Pledge of allegiance for the first flag. Also, experience shows that an unfolded flag, draped into the fire carefully, burns more effectively and completely than a folded flag.

    4. Anonymous Avatar
      Anonymous

      I’m posting this on the off chance that someone else stumbles across this like I did. I’m sure Ms. Reed had a found a solution to her problem, one way or another, over the last nine years, lol.

      In case anyone finds this while looking for information on retiring large numbers of flags, I’m a former boy scout and participated in a few bulk retirings.

      In one case we had a large, 3×5 I think, flag, as well as a few dozen little ones. In that case, we did a full retiring for the big flag, and then for the little ones just cut each of them in half and added them to the fire one at a time, one right after the other. I think we had two scouts on that.

      Another time we had collected soiled and damaged flags from homes and businesses, so we had a lot of different sizes, ages, and levels of condition, I think around 150 flags, maybe 200. It’s generally recommended when retiring a large number of flags to do one first, and state that it represents all of the flags to be retired that night. The rest can be burned in a commercial or government incinerator. Our troop had a local funeral home donate its crematorium services to incinerate the flags, although some states won’t allow anything but human remains in a crematory, so you’d have to look into that for yourself.

      Nylon and polyester flags should not be burned in bulk. One or two is okay if you have to, but synthetic fabrics release a lot of toxic gasses when they burn, and instead of incinerating like cotton and wool, they just kind of melt into this horrible plastic mess.
      Unfortunately no one really has any good suggestions for what to do with synthetic flags. It’s actually becoming a problem as they pile up with no good way to retire them. A few ideas have been floated but none of them really seem to have the same kind of dignity and solemnity of a cremation. There is a company, based in I think Wisconsin, that partners with a veteran-owned recycling company in Georgia. They send him synthetic flags 10,000 lbs at a time and after meticulously cleaning the machinery out of respect for the flags, he feeds them into a machine that renders them down into “virgin nylon”, a white nylon sludge completely unrecognizable as having ever been a flag. There is some controversy apparently over whether this process actually counts as respectful and dignified, but it seems to me like the best available option. The rest just amount to busy work and/or pollution.

  3. Ellen Avatar
    Ellen

    We are new to the scouts and our ceremony is next week. This experience and meaning will be unforgettable and we are looking forward to it.
    Will the scout earn an emblem for this?

    1. Marlin Bartholomew Avatar
      Marlin Bartholomew

      Usually after the fire has cooled we retrieve the brass grommets from the ashed and brush then clean. The Scouts who retired the flag are allowed to wear the grommet on a paracord necklace.

  4. Scouter Mom Avatar

    There is no special emblem that I am aware of, but it might help them with requirements, depending on what rank they are. See the list at the bottom of the article.

  5. Calapooia Scouter Avatar
    Calapooia Scouter

    Great ceremony – but keep in mind that a folded flag will take longer to burn. And please be sure to read the Guide to Safe Scouting, for use of fires and fire starters (chemicals). Keep it safe, have lots of fun!

  6. Debbie Gamble Avatar

    Just what I needed for Webelos den meeting next week. Thank you!

  7. Frank Giels Avatar
    Frank Giels

    We have witnessed two retirement ceremonies in the last month. The first was conducted by our long time scoutmaster at an overnighter in Metairie, La. The second at our SE La. Council fall encampment at Salmen Scout Reservation in South Miss. It was amazing to witness, and with 1000 or so cub scouts and that many more parents and leaders, you could have heard a pin drop as the giant flag was retired. Truly a humbling and patriotic memory. The scoutmaster at the first said the fire must be allowed to burn itself out, and stayed up most of the night tending it. The reading of “I am your flag” at the second was a true educational and emotional experience for all.

  8. Frank Giles Avatar
    Frank Giles

    spelled my name wrong…oops

  9. Frank Baum Avatar
    Frank Baum

    Also remember to have the Scouts stand far enough back when burning colors made of man-made materials — far enough back, keeping them upwind, that they don’t breathe the noxious fumes produced.

  10. Kristen Avatar
    Kristen

    What about a state flag? Anyone have any clues? We asked for donations of flags from the fire dept and they gave both US and CA flags. Also, for anyone planning a ceremony, I called our local VFW and they are sending veterans out to help with the ceremony and to speak about the flag. I think it will be really nice.

  11. Bill Avatar
    Bill

    Our pack has any veterans (leaders or parents) that are present, help with the ceremony.

  12. John Cutrone Avatar

    Retired US Navy Chief looking for a simple way to retire our flag with the grandkids. This is perfect. Thanks

  13. Ben Avatar
    Ben

    You may want to check out Retire the Stripes, they offer a flag retirement kit you can order and then just ship off in the mail, this predominately for people where it’s tough to get a burn permit or something.

  14. Faith Avatar
    Faith

    GREAT it is simple, respectful, and educational! Thanks

  15. Scouter Donn Avatar
    Scouter Donn

    As a life long scouter this is one of my favorite services to scouting, so I will share my 411 as people have shared with me. Remember this is a flag retirement service, not a ceremony. Remember that you are coming together to RETIRE this flag, not dispose of it. Also we need to explain to the audience that we are not burning the flag in disrespect as most people see on television.
    Lastly, if you are a scout unit and you do the Baden-Powell ashes opening fire ceremony you are not supposed to collect the ashes of a campfire with a retired flag in it, though it is not “law” and I think it adds to the respect of the ashes.
    Keep the honor and spirit alive in this!

  16. scouter Avatar

    I believe you have to cut it too

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