Even the most rugged, well-made flags will wear out over time, especially if they are flown outdoors on a regular basis. Over time, battling the elements may leave a flag torn or, at the very least, worn and faded. In such instances, it is acceptable to retire your American flag before flying a new one.
You may be aware there is a certain degree of formality expected when one retires an American flag. As the revered standard of our nation, the American flag should be treated with the utmost respect, and given a proper retirement from service. One of the more common retirement practices for flags that are no longer serviceable is to respectfully burn the flag. According to the United States Flag Code, “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.” Burning is recommended for flags made of cloth or other natural fabrics. Burning flags made of synthetic materials such as nylon may produce toxic fumes that are harmful to both the environment and bystanders. Recycling is often recommended when disposing of an American flag constructed of synthetic materials (see below for more information on recycling).
Flag Burning Steps
1. Build a medium-sized fire away from trees and buildings in a safe location. (Using an existing fire pit with an ember screen is most recommended. Clear away leaves trash and debris. Also ensure that your municipality has no outdoor burn bans and avoid building fires on especially windy days.) The fire will need to reach a steady burn in order to fully incinerate the flag.
2. Lower and fold the flag into the traditional triangle fold (http://www.usflag.org/foldflag.html). Do not place the flag on the ground. Fold it and carry directly to the fire.
3. Place the folded flag on top of the fire. Do so carefully so as not to burn yourself. Wait for the fire to die down somewhat if it is too hot for you to safely place the flag on the fire. (Do not place an unfolded flag on a fire. It is both disrespectful and dangerous.)
4. Pay your respects to the flag as it burns. You may choose to salute the flag and observe a moment of silence.
5. Recite the Pledge of Allegiance as a final, fitting tribute to the service of the flag. The words of the Pledge are: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
6. Ensure that the fire is completely out once no flag material remains to be burned. Be safe – completely douse the coals with water if you have built a campfire. Do not leave the fire unattended until it is fully extinguished.
If you do not wish to burn the flag or believe a more elaborate retirement ceremony is appropriate, you may consider contacting a local Color Guard, American Legion, VFW, Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop, all of whom may be able to conduct a formal flag retirement ceremony. This is also a good option if you have a a significant number of flags to retire.
Alternate Flag Disposal Methods
1. If you are unable to burn the flag as a means of disposal, burying the flag is also acceptable. To do so in a respectful manner, it is required that you begin by folding the traditional triangle fold (see link above) and place it in a sturdy wooden box before burial. After burying the flag, you may wish to indicate the burial location with a small marker of some sort, preferably of wood or stone to give it some degree of permanence.
2. As noted above, recycling is recommended disposal method for flags made of synthetic materials as it’s better for the environment. There are now a variety of organizations and nonprofits that offer flag recycling services. Many provide the decommissioning service at no cost. Your local Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts are a good starting point for locating flag recycling services in your area.\
Whatever method of flag disposal you choose, please ensure that the retirement of your flag is done with the respect and gratitude for service that is befitting this great symbol of our Republic.
The Texas state flag is also known as the Lone Star Flag, which is why Texas is also know as the Lone Star State. Senator William H. Wharton, representative of the District of Brazoria, first introduced the Lone Start Flag design to the Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1838. Wharton was a one of the early advocates for an independent Texas and he served as a colonel adjudge advocate general during the Texas Revolution. Though there remains dispute regarding the designer of the flag, some say it was Wharton’s own design, the Lone Star Flag was adopted by the Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1839 as the Republic’s last national flag. The previous national flags associated wit the Republic of Texas were those of Spain and France. (Our next post will explore the “six flags of Texas” and how each came to be an important part of Texas’ history.)
Despite its adoption as the flag of the Republic of Texas, the Lone Star Flag was not adopted as the official state flag of Texas for nearly another century. Though widely recognized as the state’s sole flag, it wasn’t until the passage of the 1933 Texas Flag Code that the Lone Star Flag garnered the official title of state flag. The code also assigned symbolism to the colors and star that comprise the flag’s design citing that blue stands for loyalty, white for purity and red for bravery. The lone star on the flag “represents ALL of Texas and stands for our unity as one for God, State, and Country.”
Believe it or not, there are numerous organizations devoted to the study of flags, also know as vexillology. One such group is the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA). In 2001, NAVA conducted a survey designed to rate the flags of U.S. states and Canadian provinces in terms of design quality. Texas’ Lone Star Flag received the second highest score, earning an 8.3 out of a possible ten points. Perhaps somewhat ironically, New Mexico’s flag came in first.
We headed up our previous NEWS post entitled “A Brief History of Flags” with an image of a red-and-white-striped flag featuring a rattlesnake and the familiar slogan, “Don’t Tread on Me!” While that slogan, and the symbolic use of the rattle snake, may be familiar to some of our regular readers, especially those interested in American flag history, we thought the history behind that particular symbolic representation in a U.S. flag merited a little more explanation. So, once again down the rabbit hole of history …
The first flag to feature the rattlesnake and the famed phrase “Don;’ Tread On Me” is featured at the top of this post. Featuring a coiled rattlesnake and the motto on a field of yellow, this is known as the Gadsden flag. The flag is named for its designer, Charles Gadsden, who was a general and statesman during the American Revolution. While Gadsden conceived his flag in 1775, the first use of the rattlesnake as representative of the early U.S. colonies is generally attributed to writings of Benjamin Franklin appearing in his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1751. During the French and Indian War a few years later, Franklin would create a now-famous woodcut of a rattlesnake cut into eight pieces (representing the eight American colonies at the time) with the phrase, “Join, or Die.” The woodcut was used to produce the first political cartoon published in American newspapers. Over time, use of the rattlesnake as a symbol of the colonies grew in popularity as the cause of the American revolution grew.
The first military appearance of the rattlesnake with the “Don’t Tread On Me” was on the drums of Marines assigned to accompany the first commissioned Navy vessels in the fall of 1775. The drums were painted below. Then Colonel Gadsden served on the Marine Committee at the Second Continental Congress and was charged with supplying the Marines for their naval mission. He gave Commodore Esek Hopkins, the newly-appointed CIC of the Navy, a flag featuring the coiled rattlesnake and the “Don’t Tread On Me Motto” on a field of yellow to serve as the standard of the commander’s flagship. Gadsden would present a copy of the flag to the Congress of South Carolina in Charleston.
Of course the Gadsden flag would eventually be replaced with the Stars and Stripes, but it remains a fashionable and widely-displayed flag today, often denoting an organization’s or individual’s patriotism, concern with civil liberties or displeasure with real or perceived government encroachments.
Flags, in one form or another, have been in use for more than 4000 years. The earliest flags, or standards, typically consisted of metal or wooden poles topped with carvings such as an eagle or twin lions.
The use of fabric as part of a flag did not become popular until about 2000 years ago as additional ornamentation on the standard. The Vexillum was a flag-like standard born by the ancient Roman Army. Vexillum means “little sail” which is what the standards resembled, with the fabric draped from a horizontal crossbar at the top of the staff, in much the same way that the sails of Roman vessels were attached to their masts.
By medieval times, flags we would recognize today, with the hoist attached to the vertical staff or pole, came into dominant use. (Though even today, we still see the ancient standard construction employed in religious processions and by fraternal and cultural organizations.) Then, as now, flags served two primary purposes, as a symbol or for sending a signal. Symbolically, flags employed particular interplays of color and graphic or heraldic elements to represent a people, tribe, clan, military division, ruler or monarch. With the widespread use of full body armor in the late middle ages, flags were a vital tool for helping knights and soldiers identify friend from foe on the battlefield.
Ships began flying fabric flags to signify their nation of origin in the 1600s. This practice would eventually become codified into law, and it these flags – made of cloth with stitched adornments – that are the true precursors of the national flags with which we are so familiar today. And, while today we expect every country and state to have a representative flag, it wasn’t until the 1800s that this practice became truly widespread.
Today, it would be unheard of for a nation to forgo creating a flag to symbolize the country and its people. The United States established its official flag on June 14, 1777 via the Flag Act passed by the Continental Congress: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” Currently, the American flag the flag consists of thirteen horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with 6 white, representing the original 13 colonies. The 50 white stars on a field of blue symbolize the 50 states of the Union. While there’s some debate, it is commonly noted that the colors of the flag are symbolic as well. Red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white for purity, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
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