Last weekend my son’s Cub Scout pack participated in a flag retirement ceremony conducted by the local Boy Scout troop. About 20 or so worn-out flags and banners were retired. It was a very interesting and solemn ceremony. I wanted to share it with my readers but when I went to snap the first photo my camera batteries died. Please excuse the quality of the photos below as they were taken with my phone.
Before I share what the ceremony included, let me remind you that if you have a worn out flag or banner, you can donate it to the Boy Scouts and they will retire it properly for you.
The Boy Scouts ensure that each flag is given the respect it deserves and is retired properly. Banners are different from flags and do not have to follow the extensive steps involved in a retirement ceremony, but it is still appropriate to treat the banners with respect. A true flag has the stripes individually sewn on and the stars embroidered. A banner has the stripes, stars, or both printed onto the banner material. Banners may be burned whole in the fire for retirement, but flags go through a multi-step retirement process. There are a lot of variants on this ceremony within scouting and outside of it. This is just one method of completing the retirement of the flag.
First the flags were gathered and the banners were separated out. Each scout took a turn reading something about American history and our flag as the stripes were cut from the flag one by one. It felt very strange to cut the stripes out of the flag. We made three piles, one for red stripes, one for white stripes, and one for the field of stars. In the end, each flag was cut into 15 pieces: 13 stripes, one field, and the header which is the white strip that goes down the side of the flag closet to the pole.
Once the cutting was done, we went outside and the Boy Scouts started a fire. The pieces of the flag were put into the fire one by one. It felt very off-putting to put the flag pieces into the fire but I felt reassured that these were flags that were very worn and needed to be retired. The entire ceremony was conducted in solemnity and with great respect. I think the boys all learned something about the flag and gained a lot of respect for it. One fun part at the end of the ceremony is the retrieval of the metal grommets from the ashes. The grommets are sometimes kept as good luck charms. My son fished a half dozen of them out and kept them on a ring he got off of a flag. This was probably an easier task back when flags were made out of cotton and wool. However, these days there are a lot of nylon flags which means the ashes are more like hard clumps of melted toxins.
Have you ever participated in a flag retirement ceremony? How did it make you feel? Did you know that retiring flags was this extensive? Any thoughts on the ceremony? Feel free to leave a comment. Share and let’s talk about it.