Last week my dad went out to the flag pole in the front yard and brought the flag down after noticing some fraying on the edges. He asked me if I would hem the flag for him so he could put it back up. I questioned whether this was allowed. He also pointed out that he had about 12 flags that due to age were ready to retire. Maybe flag etiquette was covered in US history years ago, but none of us could remember the proper way to retire a flag and if altering it for repairs was allowed. Not wanting to disrespect the flat we decided some investigation was in order.
It turns out that the there is a Federal Flag Code which provides guidelines on how to properly displaly the flag. The Flag Code was approved by President Franklin D. Rooselvelt in 1942 and is mainly for civilian use.
There are lots of do’s and don’ts when it comes to flying the flag. Section 6 of the Flag Code states that the flag should be displayed from sunrise to sunset. It can remain on display for 24 hours if it is properly illuminated in the dark. On Memorial Day the flag should be flown at half staff until noon and then raised to full staff for the rest of the day. The flag should never be flown during inclement weather.
The Flag Code didn’t address repairs to the flag however the proportion of the flag should remain “that the length of the flag should be 1.9 times the width.” I think I’ll play it safe and recommend that dad buys an all weather flag next time, and we’ll retire this one.
Since we were still wondering about the proper way to retire the US flag, I turned to the Anaheim Flag Day celebration for more information. I spoke with Anaheim Boy Scoutmaster Creg who described the flag retirement ceremony as a way to “pay last respects to a flag that has served a purpose.” The ceremony can last anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes depending on the type of ceremony.
Creg described that most retirement ceremonies are spoken from the heart and include these steps:
“For us it is to present the flag to the audience one last time by opening it up. We say the pledge of allegiance followed by cutting off the 2 corners with the eyelets and presenting them to a dignitary or the one who supplied the flag. This is where it can start to run short or long, but for [a short] ceremony we would start by placing the red and white short side edge of the flag into the flames and finish placement with the blue field last. If this was the long version we would cut the red and white stripes one at a time and mention a famous war location related to the wars we fought in or just might mention the original colonies before we go into placing the blue field and stars into the flames. Flag retirements are always different; it could be for veterans or simple general public.”
The most common organizations that retire the flag are the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the AmericanLegions. Since we don’t have a place for a flag retirement ceremony we are going to hold onto our flags until we hear of a general public ceremony so we can pay our respects to the flag.