If you own an American flag, you are well aware of the symbolism of this national emblem: the stars in the field of blue that represent the union; the white stripes that convey purity and innocence; and the red stripes that symbolize the strength and valor of those who have fought for our country. Since the American flag is the representation of a living country, the US Flag Code states that it must always be treated like a living thing in every stage of its existence. Below, we describe your options on how to repair and dispose of a torn flag.
General care of the American flag
While it is a myth that you must burn a flag if it ever touches the ground, the Flag Code tells us that once a US flag gets dirty, it is no longer serviceable until it is cleaned. Likewise, if the flag somehow becomes torn, you must repair it before displaying it again. If the flag remains frayed, spoiled, or faded after careful washing and mending, you must dispose of it in a specific manner.
Repairing the American Flag
The Flag Code uses the term "serviceable" to describe a flag that is in a proper state to be displayed respectfully. The flag is serviceable after repair only if its individual dimensions remain intact, AND if nobody is able to notice the repairs.
The Flag Code gives you various repair options: You may do the repairs yourself, you may take the flag to a seamstress, or you may take it to an organization or company that offer US flag repair services.
How to dispose of a US flag
Burning: When you dispose of a flag through burning it, you are performing an act of purification and rebirth on a symbol that once represented a living thing. You may burn it discretely and privately, or dispose of it in a public ceremony, as specified by the Flag Code.
1) Perform a flag retirement ceremony.
- Fold the flag in a triangle, as per military specifications, either beforehand or as a folding ceremony that is a part of the flag disposal ceremony itself. The folded flag ceremony is a tribute to the nation's dead. Each fold is symbolic, representing in some way our country's belief in the resurrection of the body.
- Lay the folded flag on the bonfire.
- Place the flag on the bonfire and burn it while those present stand at attention or salute.
- Arrange beforehand for an individual to sing the National Anthem or recite the Pledge of Allegiance as the flag burns.
- Lastly, announce a moment of silence for personal reflection.
2) Find an agency or company to burn the flag for you.
Needless to say, there may be several reasons why you might not feel comfortable burning the flag yourself. Many flags today are made of synthetic fibers that release toxic gases when ignited. In addition, you might not feel comfortable performing the military rites described above, or have the time and resources necessary to retire your US flag ceremoniously. You can easily locate an agency like the American Legion, the Girl Scouts, or the Boy Scouts, or a private flag company, that offer US flag retirement and disposal services upon request.
Burying: Secondly, you have the option of burying your flag using the same ceremonial procedures used when you retire it through burning.
- Find a dignified, well-constructed wooden box to bury the flag.
- Slowly place the folded flag in the box, and seal it.
- Bury the box in the ground. Note that you should always handle the flag mindfully and respectfully -- whether you are lowering it down the staff, placing it into the interment box, or burying it.
- If you wish, you may mark the burial spot with a small patriotic marker.
At Accent Banner we specialize in the manufacture and sale of flags and banners for all types of organizations, including non-profits, schools, sports teams, and more. In addition, Accent Banner provides American flag repair and retirement services upon request.