Proper flag disposal: There's a right way to retire Old Glory

Here's what to do with a tattered, soiled American flag

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We all know the Fourth of July is a day to celebrate America’s birthday, but the idea of celebrating the flag is believed to have originated in 1885.

It started with a school teacher in Wisconsin who wanted to celebrate what was then the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of the Stars and Stripes. Now, we recognize Flag Day every June 14.

And 242 years after we adopted the Stars and Stripes, do you know the right way to honor Old Glory and dispose of her if she becomes torn, soiled and tattered or just worn out?  

According to the United States Flag Code, when a flag is so damaged that it no longer can serve as a symbol of the country, it should be retired in a dignified way. The preferred method is burning it. But before doing that, you should shred the flag by separating the 13 stripes and leaving the blue spangled field intact.

You can also bury your flag in a wooden vessel, but it has to be folded correctly first. 

You can watch the tutorial above by The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) or follow these steps:

  • To begin, hold the flag waist high so that it's parallel to the ground.
  • Fold the lower half of the stripe section lengthwise over the field of stars.
  • Fold the flag again lengthwise with the blue field on the outside.
  • Make a triangular fold and bring the striped corner of the folded edge to meet the open edge of the flag.
  • Turn the endpoint inward, parallel to the open edge, and form a second triangle.
  • Continue the triangular folding until the entire length of the flag is folded.
  • When done, only a triangular blue field of stars should be visible. If a hem protrudes beyond the blue field, it should be neatly tucked inside the folds of the flag so that it does not show.

There are a number of organizations that help with flag disposal. Among them are American Legion and VFW Posts as well as the Boy Scouts of America.

And there’s another way to properly retire your flag: News4Jax has partnered with area Carpet One stores to offer new flags in place of old ones. Just take your worn or tattered flag to one of their stores, and they will make sure it is properly taken care of and give you a new flag to display on Friday (while supplies last).

About the Author:

This Emmy Award-winning television, radio and newspaper journalist has anchored The Morning Show for 18 years.