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A Simple Flag Retirement Ceremony

The American flag stands as a profound symbol of our nation’s ideals, freedoms, and sacrifices. It waves as a beacon of hope and unity, representing not just the country’s history but the courage and valor of those who have defended it. Given its significance, the respectful treatment of the flag, especially when it is no longer fit for display, is a matter of great importance.

The United States Flag Code provides clear guidance on this matter, stating, “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.” This directive underscores the need for reverence and solemnity in the flag’s retirement process, ensuring it is accorded the honor it deserves.

Flag retirement ceremonies serve as poignant reminders of the flag’s value and the responsibilities it embodies. Tailoring such a ceremony for Cub Scouts not only teaches them about the flag’s importance but also instills a sense of duty and respect towards national symbols.

This article aims to guide Scout leaders and Cub Scouts through the process of conducting a dignified flag retirement ceremony, emphasizing the ceremony’s significance and the respectful disposition of our nation’s emblem. By engaging young scouts in this solemn act, we foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the flag’s role in our country’s heritage and values.

When Should a Flag Retirement Ceremony Be Held?

The need for flag retirement arises from a profound respect for the American flag as a symbol of our nation’s principles, history, and sacrifices. The flag represents the United States and all its citizens, embodying ideals such as liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. Over time, however, flags can become worn, faded, or otherwise damaged through their constant display and use.

When a flag reaches such a state where it no longer presents a fitting emblem for display, it is not just an act of protocol but a gesture of deep respect to retire it from service. This action aligns with the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Flag Code, which specifies that the flag, when no longer suitable for display, “should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

Understanding the need for flag retirement is crucial, especially for younger generations. It teaches them the importance of treating national symbols with the reverence they deserve. By recognizing when a flag has served its purpose and ensuring its retirement is handled with dignity, we pay homage to the ideals and sacrifices the flag represents.

This process also offers a tangible lesson in patriotism and respect, underscoring the significance of caring for and honoring our national symbols properly. Engaging scouts in flag retirement ceremonies not only educates them about proper flag etiquette but also instills a sense of national pride and responsibility.

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

In the context of flag retirement ceremonies, special considerations must be taken for synthetic flags. Unlike traditional cotton or wool flags, synthetic materials such as nylon or polyester pose distinct challenges when retired through burning. The combustion of synthetic fabrics can release harmful chemicals into the air, presenting environmental and health risks. Consequently, it is essential to approach the retirement of synthetic flags with alternative methods that maintain the dignity of the ceremony while mitigating potential hazards.

One alternative is recycling. Certain organizations and companies specialize in recycling synthetic materials, including flags, transforming them into new products. This approach offers a respectful and environmentally friendly solution for retiring flags made from synthetic fabrics.

Another option involves cutting the flag into pieces, ensuring that it is no longer recognizable as the national emblem, which can then be disposed of by burying. This method aligns with the ethos of dignity and respect, as the flag is not desecrated or dishonored during the process.

It’s crucial for Scout leaders and participants in flag retirement ceremonies to be aware of these considerations. Educating Cub Scouts and other young participants about the importance of environmentally responsible practices, even in the context of patriotic ceremonies, instills valuable lessons in sustainability and respect for both national symbols and the environment.

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.


A United States flag which is no longer suitable for display

fire, prepared ahead of time


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 for Simple Flag Retirement Ceremony

Flag Retirement and Grommets

What to Do with the Grommets

Transforming the grommets from a flag retirement ceremony into key chains is a novel and meaningful idea. Often, these grommets are treated with reverence; they are buried with the ashes, polished and presented to veterans or the flag’s donor, given to Scouts as a token of participation, or framed as a cherished keepsake. Each option honors the flag’s service and legacy in its own way, reflecting the deep respect and gratitude we hold for our nation’s emblem and those who have served under it. Creating key chains could serve as a daily reminder of these values and the flag’s significance.

How to Fold a US Flag

In preparation for a flag retirement ceremony, it’s crucial to ensure that your Scouts are well-versed in the proper folding of the flag. While the process is straightforward, it requires practice to perform with the precision and reverence it deserves. Practicing ahead of the ceremony not only instills confidence in the Scouts but also enhances the solemnity of the event. A well-executed fold reflects the dignity of the flag retirement ceremony and pays proper homage to this emblem of our nation’s values and sacrifices. Make folding practice a meaningful part of your ceremony preparation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a flag retirement ceremony?

A flag retirement ceremony is a dignified and respectful event specifically designed to retire an American flag that is no longer fit for display due to wear, damage, or other conditions that compromise its appearance. This ceremony follows the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Flag Code, ensuring the flag is treated with the utmost respect as it is retired, usually through burning.

When should a flag be retired?

A flag should be retired when it is significantly worn, torn, faded, or otherwise damaged and can no longer be displayed as a fitting emblem of the United States. The decision to retire a flag should be made with consideration for its current condition and the respect it deserves.

Who can conduct a flag retirement ceremony?

Flag retirement ceremonies can be conducted by various organizations, including Scouting groups (such as Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA), veterans’ organizations, government agencies, and community groups. Essentially, anyone committed to showing the proper respect and following the dignified process outlined by the U.S. Flag Code can conduct a flag retirement ceremony.

Is burning the only method for retiring a flag?

While burning is the preferred and traditional method for retiring a flag as outlined by the U.S. Flag Code, special considerations are made for synthetic flags due to environmental concerns. For synthetic flags, alternatives such as recycling or cutting the flag into pieces (ensuring it is no longer recognizable) are recommended to avoid releasing harmful chemicals into the air.

Can Cub Scouts participate in a flag retirement ceremony?

Yes, Cub Scouts can and are encouraged to participate in flag retirement ceremonies. These ceremonies offer valuable lessons in patriotism, respect for national symbols, and the importance of dignity in all actions. It is a meaningful experience that aligns with the values taught in Scouting programs.

What are the key components of a flag retirement ceremony?

A flag retirement ceremony typically includes several key components: an explanation of the ceremony’s purpose, a final display of the flag, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, proper folding of the flag, and the respectful retirement of the flag, usually by burning. The ceremony should be conducted in a solemn and respectful atmosphere.

Are there alternatives to burning a flag for retirement?

Yes, for flags made of synthetic materials that shouldn’t be burned, alternatives include recycling programs that can repurpose the material or cutting the flag into pieces to ensure it is no longer recognizable as a flag. These methods allow for a respectful retirement while considering environmental safety and health concerns.

How can I find a flag retirement ceremony near me?

To find a flag retirement ceremony near you, contact local Scouting organizations, veterans’ groups, civic clubs, or government offices. Many of these organizations regularly conduct flag retirement ceremonies, especially around patriotic holidays, and often welcome community participation.

A Patriotic Farewell

In closing, the act of retiring an American flag is a powerful testament to the respect and reverence we hold for our nation’s most enduring symbol. A flag retirement ceremony is not merely a procedural act but a solemn occasion that imparts crucial lessons in patriotism, respect, and environmental responsibility, especially to the younger generation of Cub Scouts. Through these ceremonies, participants learn the importance of honoring the flag’s service to the country and ensuring its dignified retirement.

For scout leaders and members of the scouting community, organizing and participating in a flag retirement ceremony presents an invaluable opportunity to instill these principles. It offers a moment to reflect on the freedoms and values that the flag represents and to commit anew to the ideals of duty, honor, and country.

As we continue to celebrate and honor our flag through these ceremonies, we reaffirm our collective commitment to the principles upon which our nation was founded. Let us remember that each flag retirement ceremony, while marking the end of a flag’s service, also signifies our ongoing dedication to the values it embodies. May we approach each ceremony with the solemnity it deserves, ensuring that the legacy of our flag and the ideals it represents are preserved for future generations.


24 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
      Scouter Mom

      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

        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

      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.

      1. Kelley Engstrom Avatar
        Kelley Engstrom

        Thank you! I did stumble upon this post as I have always taken mine to the VFW but I own a race track (youth karting) and we have a “Flag Day” race coming up and want to do this ceremony at the track to teach the kids!! I plan on asking everyone to bring their flags that need to be retired as well.

    5. Chad Brandt Avatar
      Chad Brandt

      You can use the same ceremony, but it requires some editing.

      I have consulted with scout leaders on whether or not it is appropriate to drape a flag into the fire rather than folding it. This saves some time because it takes so long for a folded flag to burn. Not everyone agrees with this, but several scout leaders whom I respect have signed off on *carefully* draping successive flags into the fire. In this manner, you can respectfully retire multiple flags in one ceremony. We unfurl them all at once, and say the pledge of allegiance to them all at once. The flags are then retired in turn with a senior scout or adult leader tending them such that they catch and are consumed by the fire. The tender also silently signals, counterclockwise around the fire, for the next scout to approach. Our more senior scouts are very practiced at this, and they assist younger scouts to ensure that it is done respectfully and safely. We have retired as many as 15 flags in a single ceremony using this approach. At summer camp, over the course of a week, we usually retire 50 to 70 flags over several evenings.

      We use the multiple flag ceremony for when we have more than about 4-6 flags. For fewer than 4 to 6 flags, we fold them. The flags are presented, and then folded, at the same time, and then placed into the fire successively.

  3. Ellen Avatar

    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
    Scouter Mom

    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
    Debbie Gamble

    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

    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

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

  12. John Cutrone Avatar
    John Cutrone

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

  13. Ben Avatar

    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

    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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