The Burning Question: How Do You Retire An American Flag?

The Burning Question: How Do You Retire An American Flag?

Martín Di Felice

Palm Desert, CA

For many, the American flag the strongest symbol of national freedom, pride and love of country. But what do you do when the flag you hold so dearly is tattered beyond repair? Do you still use it? Throw it away?

"It means a whole lot more than just, ‘oh it’s tattered, beat up, replace it, get a new one, toss that one out’ it’s not that easy," said Palm Desert resident Jesse Garcia.

"My daughter served in the army. This flags means a lot to me. And I’m grateful for her service and everybody else’s service. Past, present and future," said Tonya Garcia, Jesse’s wife.

For this Palm Desert couple. the United States flag is a reminder that many brave men and women gave their life so people could proudly raise the flag at home, at school and at work.

"It made me think, how many other parents have gone through this, send off their kids. And how many of those kids didn’t come back. That’s what our flag means. Every time I put it up I think of those kids that didn’t come back. I’m grateful that my kid came back. But there’s tons of kids that didn’t," said Jesse.

At first the Garcia’s didn’t feel it was right to burn the flag even though their research said they could.

"When you see other people in other countries that don’t like the American flag that’s what they do, they burn it. And every one says no, no, no. So why would I as an American burn my own flag?" said Tonya.

There are several ways to retire a worn-out American flag. Either burn it, bury it, recycle it or donate it. But each way should be done properly.

"The American flag, we want to treat it with respect all the way from the very beginning, all the way to the end of its life, and when a flag is tattered or torn it is no longer respectful to have it flying. So we take it down and retire it in a respectful manner," said John Ramont of Boy Scout Troop 377 in Bermuda Dunes.

For cotton flags, it is acceptable to burn them.

"Again out of respect, what we do is we have the flag held open one more time so that it’s to fly one more time. Then we lay gently over the fire and fold the corners in and let it burn. And we do not extinguish the fire, we let it burn out on its own," said Ramont.

You should not burn synthetic or nylon flags because doing so would release toxic fumes.

"We cut the flag apart first cutting it in half to cut the stripes away from the blue field. And we always leave the blue field intact as it represents keeping the union intact. But we split the flag apart and once it’s split apart, it’s no longer a flag and then it can be disposed of, recycled, however someone wants," Ramont said.

It is acceptable to bury a worn out American flag if it is folded properly and placed in a small wooden box. Jesse and Tonya Garcia said they would just that.

The American Legion accepts worn-out American flags and will retire them properly if you don’t have the means to do it yourself.