Flag Retirement Ceremonies

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A note of caution: If you plan to do a flag retirement at a Cub Scout event, or an event where Cub Scouts may be present, such as a Camporee, carefully think through what you plan to do. Our experience is that the Cub Scouts may not understand what is going on, and may get very upset. Prepare the Cub Scouts ahead of time. Have their leaders explain the whole process, why it is done, and in particular the patriotic nature of the ceremony. -- the MacScouter

Troop 369 Flag Retirement Ceremony

SPEAKER: "Title 36, Section 176, of the United States Code states: "No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America;"

Furthermore, Paragraph (K) of this same Title 36, Section 176, states: "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

The BSA publication "Our Flag" states: "When the national flag is worn beyond repair, burn it thoroughly and completely on a modest, but blazing fire. This should be done in a simple manner with dignity and respect. Be sure the flag is reduced to ashes unrecognizable as a former flag."

SPEAKER: "The flag(s) we retire tonight has served us well, but due to it’s condition it is no longer suitable for display. A fresh new flag now flies in it's place, to carry on the honor and dignity of "Old Glory" which flew many years ago."

SPEAKER: "Tonight we will retire this great symbol of freedom throughout the world. Please remain silent until directed otherwise. ABSOLUTE DIGNITY MUST BE MAINTAINED THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE CEREMONY!"

To the burial fire we add ...

REDWOOD: to remind us of the red-blooded Americans who fought and died to build our nation under this flag.

OAK:for rugged strength that carried the flag across this nation and today reaches for the stars.

CEDAR:to protect us from pestilence and corruption and preserve our American way of life.

WALNUT: to remind us of the rich soil, the beautiful countryside and the fruitful brotherhood founded by our ancestors."

SPEAKER TO AUDIENCE: "Please stand."

SPEAKER: "Color guard present the colors to be retired."

COLOR GUARD: Prepare to place flag in the fire: * Flag should be carried waist high, parallel to the ground by four to six Scouts in full class A uniform, one on each corner and one on each long side if necessary. Stop just in front of the fire.

SPEAKER TO AUDIENCE: "Scout Salute, or if you are out of uniform place your hand over your heart."

COLOR GUARD: * Walk the flag into the middle of the fire. Lower the flag into the fire, slow enough that it starts burning, but fast enough that the flames to not burn the carriers hands. Flip the corners of the flag into the fire to be burned.

SPEAKER: "We are drawn here together in the sight of God to pay our "last respects" to this symbol of our great nation, "America", the land of the free and the home of the brave. Please join with me in reciting the pledge of allegiance."

"Two!"

SPEAKER:

Divide group into 3 parts to sing "America…, America…, how can I tell you how I feel. You have given me many treasures, I love you sooo". Stagger each part. (The approach to how you want to do the song can change with the group. Maybe invite the attendees to sing one stanza of the song with you is adequate. The song really does make a nice finish to the ceremony.)

Dismiss 1st section from the campfire humming the song while they leave. The other two sections continue singing the words.

Dismiss 2nd section from the campfire humming the song while they leave. The last section continues singing the words.

Dismiss last section from the campfire humming the song while they leave.

 

A Flag Retirement Ceremony

from Steven Featherkile

We have developed a tradition of retiring a flag at the end of each Court of Honor. Prior to the ceremony, say a couple of hours, we put the flag, folded in the tricorn, into a large enough "Zip-Loc" bag. We put about 2 tablespoons of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol into the bag to soak into the flag. This gives encouragement to the flame and makes a nice blue tinted flame. We've learned by experience (and many singed arms) not to use any more that 2 Tbs. The several hours is important to thoroughly soak the flag. I suppose charcoal lighter fluid would work just as well.

We explain the ceremony to calm the fears of anyone who is unfamiliar with it. We tell them that when a flag is beyond repair, it cannot be thrown into the trash like garbage, and that it is traditionally retired by burning. We then read something about the flag. Woods Wisdom has a couple of good ones to start with. The color guard (at least 4 older scouts) advances to the campfire and unfolds the flag. The command "Display the colors" is given, and the color guard holds the flag so it can be seen. Then the command "Hand Salute" is given. Then "Retire the colors." The color guard respectfully lowers the flag into the fire, ensuring that ALL of the flag is within the fire ring and on the fire. Hand salute is held throughout this part of the ceremony. As the flame burns down, the command, "Buglar, Sound Taps," is given. When Taps is over, "Two" is given. Then everyone is thanked for coming to the COH, and "Drive safely." It's hard to follow the retirement with anything, so we make it last.

-- Thanks to Steve Featherkile, Troop 319, La Mesa, CA

Flag Retirement Ceremony

PURPOSE: To promote American Heritage and provide a Community service by honorably disposing of worn United States Flags. Worn U.S. Flags may be burned or buried with honor and dignity.

MATERIAL: Two U.S. Flags, one old and one new. Worn State flags may also accompany. Various kinds of natural wood. At least five uniformed Scouts. Medium size campfire is helpful.

PREPARATION: Help "speaker" outline the ceremony in own words. Practice procedure with attending Scouts. Timing and mood of audience should be considered for best results.

PROCEDURE: Scouts come to fire bringing materials.

SPEAKER: Suggested comments to include: We are drawn here together in the sight of God to pay our last respects to this symbol of our great nation, "America", the land of the free and the home of the brave.

(Folded worn flag).

This flag has served us well, but the weather has taken it's toll. Tomorrow a fresh new flag will fly in it's place, to carry on the honor and dignity of "Old Glory" which flew many years ago. To the burial fire we add ...

REDWOOD: to remind us of the red-blooded Americans who fought and died to build our nation under this flag.

OAK:for rugged strength that carried the flag across this nation and today reaches for the stars.

CEDAR:to protect us from pestilence and corruption and preserve our American way of life.

WALNUT: to remind us of the rich soil, the beautiful countryside and the fruitful brotherhood founded by our ancestors.

AUDIENCE: Stand.

SCOUTS: Prepare to place flag in the fire: * Flag should be carried waist high, parallel to the ground by four individuals, one on each corner. Stop just next to the fire. --- Optional ceremonial actions at this time. ---

AUDIENCE: Salute - Hold salute until stars disappear.

SCOUTS: * Walk the flag into the middle of the fire. Lower the flag into the fire, slow enough that it starts burning, but fast enough that the flames to not burn the carriers hands. Flip the corners of the flag into the fire to be burned.

--- Optional (if used): Add Union (field of stars) to the fire (possibly draped over stick) --- Repeat this process for each flag to be burned.) * After burning of last flag, unfold new flag, hold it up.

SPEAKER: Now let us stand and re-dedicate our lives to the hopes and dreams of our fathers who fought so bravely for the things we take for granted -- our American heritage.

ALL: Stand and salute - ready, begin: 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.

Background music "America" or Taps makes for silent thought period after ceremony. ---

1st optional ceremonial action --- Additional person with scissors prepares the flag for ceremonial burning by cutting (and retaining) the Union (field of stars) from the flag. --

2nd optional ceremonial action with more time available- Preliminary preparation of the flag prior to ceremony - cut most of the threads holding all the stripes together! At the ceremony with multiple people holding the flag, or on a small card table set up, lay the flag on the table. As each individual red or white stripe is separated from the flag and placed in the fire, read aloud the name of each of the original 13 States and the date of admission into the Union. Then place the Union (field of stars) into the fire, possibly reading of the name and date, of the last state admitted to the Union.

1. Delaware December 7, 1787
2. Pennsylvania December 12, 1787
3. New Jersey December 18, 1787
4. Georgia January 2, 1788
5. Connecticut January 9, 1788
6. Massachusetts February 6, 1788
7. Maryland April 28, 1788
8. South Carolina May 23, 1788
9. New Hampshire June 21, 1788
10. Virginia June 25, 1788
11. New York July 26, 1788
12. North Carolina November 21, 1788
13. Rhode Island May 29, 1790
48. Arizona February 14, 1912
50. Hawaii August 21, 1959 --- any other optional actions that seem appropriate ---

.

U.S. Flag Retirement Ceremony

Preface:

Just a simple piece of colored cloth, sewn together in a red, white, and blue design. A piece of cloth that of itself does nothing more than hang or blow in the wind. But to many thousands of people though out our nations glorious history, it has stood tall, standing as a monument of Freedom, for all Americans. Men and woman have given their lives for it, fought for it, cried for it, and revered it as a symbol for the greatest country on earth. Books, songs, and poems have been written for it, and our National Anthem was inspired by it. Each day our children are encouraged to pledge their allegiance to it, and when ever it is raised or passes by, we all place our hands over our hearts or salute it. It stands for the freedom we all share and the pride and patriotism we feel for our country.

But when the flag has served its usefulness and no longer is suitable to represent our country, it must be retired and replaced. I have found very little written concerning an actual flag retirement ceremony. I have seen several done, and I have performed several myself, and although all were done with dignity and evoked great emotion, I believe that a task of this magnitude warrants a well thought out plan and a guide to properly dignify this event. The only "official" resource that I was able to find was in the United States Code that simply states:

" Soiled flags may be renovated by either washing or dry cleaning. Worn out flags should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning."

The importance of this act, and the pride and emotions that it evokes make it a very powerful event that can serve as a reminder of our National Pride and help instill the values brought forth in developing good citizenship in our youth.

With this in mind, the retirement of our nations flag then becomes a heavy responsibility that must be addressed with the proper respect and dignity it deserves. I offer the following as a guide and resource towards this end.

Thanks to Dave Tracewell, US Scoutig Service Project

 

U.S. Flag Retirement Ceremony

The flag retirement ceremony can be done in many settings, but is most effective in a small group setting. It should not be made a "grand event" or public display, rather a small solemn occasion with a specific group or organization. A special ceremony or campfire would be appropriate. The actual ceremony should be an event by itself with no interruptions or "other business" during the ceremony. It may be a separate part of a larger program, but should have it's own time from beginning to end.

Beginning the ceremony:

Members of Retirement Team:

Equipment Needed:

Master of Ceremony
Color Guard of three to "Carry the Colors".
Fire builder/tender
"New" Flag Bearer
Any "Speakers" you may wish to have read the different parts
Scoutmaster
"old" flag(s)
one flag stand (with easy clips)
one new flag to replace each old one.
stick to stir the ashes with

Have the "audience" or group form in a half circle around the place where the flag is to be retired, leaving enough space for the Color Guard to advance. (see diagram)

.

 X (Fire Tender)           Fire
               XXX                         XXX
                    XXX                XXX
                         XXXXXXXX
                          XXXXXX                X
                         Audience               X Flag Bearer (old)
                                                Color   X
                                                Guard

Begin the ceremony by having the MC "silence" the audience and call for the colors:

MC: "Color Guard... present Colors"

The Color Guard, in full uniform, will march forward with the "Old Flag" attached to a Flag Pole, flag bearer in the center with one guard in front, and one guard in back. They are to come up the right side of the audience, from the rear of the area. As the flag approaches the view of the first person in the audience, the MC will call out: "Scouts... Hand Salute One." Everyone is to remain saluting until the Color Guard crosses behind the fire (in front of the MC) and lines up behind the flag stand. The MC will then ask the Color Guard to "Post the Colors" at which time the Flag Bearer will insert the flag into the flag stand, and all three will then step back and salute the flag.

MC: will then say "Two ; Color Guards return to ranks".

The Color Guard will then Step back and remain standing behind the flag. (Audience to remain standing)

Opening:

MC: "We are here today to honor the symbol of our country and retire a flag which has served its useful life as a symbol of freedom and our country. "

First Speaker: "I am your Flag. I was born on June 14, 1777. I am more than just a piece of cloth shaped into a colorful design, I am the silent sentinel of freedom for the greatest sovereign nation on earth. I am the inspiration for which America patriots gave their lives and fortunes, I am the emblem of America.

I have led your sons into battle from Valley Forge to Vietnam. I have been there though the Civil War, Two World wars, at Gettysburg, Flanders, Korea, the Gulf War, all of them. I was there with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and I here with you now.

I have flown through Peace and War. Through strife and Prosperity, and amidst it all, I have always been respected. My red stripes symbolize the blood spilled in defense of this glorious nation. My white stripes, the burning tears shed by Americans who lost their sons in battle. My blue field represents God's Heaven under which I fly, and my stars, clustered together, unify the fifty states as one for God and Country.

I am "Old Glory" and I proudly wave on high. Honor me, respect me, and defend me with your lives. Never let our enemies tear me down from my lofty position, lest I never return. Keep alight the fires of patriotism, strive earnestly for the spirit of democracy, and keep me always as a symbol of freedom, liberty, and peace in our country.

When comes the time when I am old and faded, do not let me fly in disrepair, rather retire me from my duties only to replace me with a new flag so that I may continue to symbolize our country. With this, renew your commitment to what I stand for and pledge your allegiance to me one final time :

MC: "Scouts... Hand Salute One! To the audience: Please join me in the Pledge of Allegiance:"

"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."

MC: "Two"

Second Reader: As you can see, this banner of Freedom before you is worn, tattered, and soiled from use and age. Her broad stripes are no longer a fiery red & pure white, but faded and worn out. The stars and blue background are no longer vivid reminders of our blue skies and great land, of the purity, vigilance, and justice she should represent. She has flown proudly over the years and has done her job well, but now she must be replaced with a new flag to properly represent this great Nation of ours.

MC: "Color Guard, Prepare to remove colors". " Remove Colors"

At this time the Color Guard is to step forward and remove the flag from the Flag Stand. They will then step back and fold the flag in the customary manner. They are to then step back and stand at attention with the Flag Bearer holding the flag in front of him, palms up.

Retiring the Colors:

MC: "Color Guard, Retire Colors"

At this time the Color Guard is to march over to the fire, unfold the flag, and present it to the audience in standard display form, one Guard Standing behind and to the right of the flag, and the other two holding each end of the flag for display.

Third Reader: The flag of our Nation should always be a strong, vivid symbol of our land and fly brightly in our minds. Our flag is a symbol of our people, our freedom, and our strength. So it is now that I commit this flag, which no longer can fulfill these duties to the fire so that we may replace it with a new flag to properly symbolize our Nation. May the spirit of this flag be born again in the new flag we will now fly"

MC: Scouts... Hand Salute One"

At this time the Color Guard will turn the flag sideways and gently drop it into the fire, folding the ends in toward the middle of the flame. The third Guard will use a long stick to then "stir the ashes" so that it will not be possible to recognize the ashes as a flag. They will then step back from the fire and stand at attention, and salute the flag.

MC: "Two"

MC: Color Guards... Prepare Colors"

At this time, the Color Guard will March Over to where the "new" flag Bearer is. The New Flag Bearer will hand the new flag to the Color Guard Flag Bearer and step back. The Color Guard will then march back to where they were standing behind the flag stand and stand at attention:

MC: "Color Guard... Prepare Colors" " Scouts... Hand salute One"

The Color Guard will then unfold the flag, remove the pole from the stand and attach it to the pole. They will then stand at attention, pole "at ready" to post.

MC: "Color Guard... Post Colors"

The Color Guard will then "Post the Colors" and step back and salute the Flag.

MC: "Please join me and welcoming this new flag by once again pledging our allegiance to it:"

"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."

MC: "Two... Color Guards return to Ranks".

MC: "I would now like our Scoutmaster to bring this ceremony to an end with a Scoutmaster Minute"

Scoutmaster: An appropriate Scoutmaster minute of your choice, or use the following if you like:

REMEMBERING YOUR COLORS

by: Dave Tracewell

Remember Me? Yeah, that's right, red & white stripes, fifty stars on a blue field in the upper left corner, I am your Flag, but I've also been know by "Old Glory", the "Stars and Stripes", and the "Star Spangled Banner". Whatever you call me, I am the flag of the United States of America.

I remember years ago that people used to honor me, fly me with pride outside their homes and at work, and children in school would Pledge their Allegiance to me every day. They would carry me in parades and people would watch and salute me with pride as I passed by, proudly waving in the wind.

When men and woman saw me coming, the men removed their hats and placed it over their hearts and the women placed their right hands over theirs. And their children were taught respect for the flag, and what to do as well. Now I'm lucky if they even recognize me, or even notice at all. Now, the young boys and girls make fun of those who carry me, and call them names. They haven't learned, or don't remember about the thousands of men and women who gave up their lives for me. People who knew the the meaning of Freedom, Liberty, Justice, and Peace.

Why has this happened? I'm still your American Flag. I haven't really changed that much... just added a few stars over the years, been a whole lot more places, and though it all, stood strong by you. Why don't people respect me the same way they used to? A lot of blood has been shed since those parades of long ago. A lot more men and women have died defending me. When you honor me, you honor those men and women who gave up every- thing for your freedom. When I am flown, I see people not notice. When I am in a parade, I see people just stand there, with their hands in their pockets. I may get a small glance, but then you look away. Next time, please notice and respect me. Next time stand and be proud to be an American Citizen!

I see the young children of today running around and not being taught how to act when I'm around. Don't the parents of today care? Don't they know how to act? I saw one man start to take off his hat and looked around and saw no one else doing it, so just put it back on. I saw some kids calling the Boy Scouts who were carrying me names and making fun of them. I saw many just sit there as I passed by, talking with one another like I didn't even exist. Is it now wrong to be patriotic? Have today's Americans forgotten what I stand for and where I've been?

If you don't care, who will? If you don't teach our children what I stand for, and how to act around me, who will? If our children don't learn how to respect our flag, what it means to defend our country, and how important Freedom, Liberty, and Patriotic Duty is, what future does our mighty country have? So, when you see me, stand straight, think about what I stand for, think about all of the Americans that have died for our country, and place your right-hand over your heart or salute to honor me. I'll be saluting you back by waving strong and proud in the wind. And I'll know that you remembered me.

A Modest Flag Retirement Ceremony

Background and Preparation: A small, modest fire is built and lit in advance, being given sufficient time to burn down almost to coals.

Scout #1; The following is a direct quotation from the beginning of Title 36, Section 176, of the United States Code: "No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America;"

Furthermore, Paragraph (K) of this same Title 36, Section 176, states: "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

(Ceremony team enters in silence, displaying unfurled flag to the assembled gathering)

Scout #2: (Recites entire following prose while flag's colors are being separated):

I AM YOUR FLAG
I was born on June 14, 1777
I am more than cloth just shaped into a design.
I am the refuge of the world's oppressed people.
I am the silent sentinel of freedom.
I am the emblem of the greatest sovereign nation on earth.
I am the inspiration for which American Patriots gave their lives and fortunes.
I have led your sons into battle from Valley Forge to the blistering desert of the Arabian Peninsula.
I walked in silence with each of your honored dead to their final resting place beneath the silent white crosses row upon row.
I have flown through peace and war, strife and prosperity, and amidst it all I have been respected.

"Old Glory" is my nickname; proudly I wave on high. Honor me, respect me, defend me with your lives and your fortunes. Never let my enemies tear me down from my lofty position lest I never return. Keep alight the fires of patriotism, strive earnestly for the spirit of democracy. Worship Eternal God and keep His commandments, and I shall remain the bulwark of peace and freedom for all people. For, I AM YOUR FLAG.

(Stop here until the flag's colors are completely separated; then continue).

Scout#2: My red stripes symbolize the blood spilled in defense of the glorious nation.

Scout #1: LET US RETIRE THE RED STRIPES. HAND SALUTE! (Red stripes are now placed on the burning fire)

Scout #1: TWO!

Scout #2: My white stripes signify the burning tears shed by Americans who lost their sons.

Scout #1: LET US RETIRE THE WHITE STRIPES. HAND SALUTE! (White stripes are now placed on the burning fire.)

Scout #1: TWO!

Scout #2: My blue field is indicative of God's heaven under which we fly. My stars, clustered together, unify 50 States as one for God and Country.

Scout #1: LET US RETIRE THE BLUE FIELD WITH STARS. HAND SALUTE! (Blue field with stars are now placed on the burning fire.)

Bugler: (Plays "Taps" while colors are being destroyed.)

Scout #1: TWO!

(Ceremony team files out in silence)

(from handout at scoutmaster fundamentals training)

 

 

 

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