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How To: Properly Retire A U.S. Flag

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If your fraternity house was like mine, then you had two flags hanging on the wall. To the left was the banner that represents the blood, sweat and tears that you and your brothers have figuratively and literally gone through that has made you into a proud brotherhood. To the right, however, is a different banner: The Star-Spangled Banner, which represents the blood, sweat, and tears of a nation forged from those who were bold enough to adventure to a new world and fight for ideals that they believed in. Over the years, Old Glory has seen a lot while mounted on the wall, from pledges being molded into men, to raging parties, to everybody shouting at the TV on game day.

Over the course of time, our flag had become dirty and worn. There is nothing to be ashamed about when a flag gets to that condition, it happens all the time. As Americans, we have a duty to ensure that the flag is treated with respect and properly retired. Some may ask, “Why do we need to retire a U.S. flag”? The simple answer is that we are to always show pride for America and the flag by ensuring that the flag is in the best possible condition.

So, now that we have identified why to retire a U.S. flag, we need to discuss when it is time to retire the flag and how to properly retire it. Please note: in this description I will mention that the flag is to be burned. While flag burning, in the sense that you are probably thinking of, is one of the worst things that an American can do, it is not an issue so long as you follow the proper procedure and your actions are done with respect and dignity. Most people simply say “retiring” instead of “burning” to clear up any confusion.

If a flag has been ripped, faded to excess, soiled, or greatly worn, it is time to retire it. There are several ways to retire the flag, so I will try to cover most of them. The first step is to cut out the Union (the blue area with the stars). Make sure to use a knife or a pair of scissors; do not tear it with your bare hands. From that point, you have two options. The first is to cut out each individual star and retire them one at a time saying the names of the states as you place them in. The second is to retire the Union as a whole unit. I prefer the latter over the former because, to me, it signifies that the states should always be united. As I said before, it is up to you, so long as you do it with respect.

Next you may cut each of the individual stripes and retire them separately, or you may retire them as one unit. I prefer to take the time to retire each of the stripes individually. Some people say the names of the 13 original colonies as they retire each stripe. If you forgot which ones were the original colonies, they are: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island.

During the ceremony you may have people prepare a speech to be read, play music, usually our national anthem, or have silence to reflect and think of the good times you had while Old Glory stood vigil over you through the years. Once all the parts of the flag have been placed into the fire, we always finish up with presenting the new flag while saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

This is a great brotherhood activity that I hope all of you decide to take part in. It can be a very emotional time, as well. Take pride in your country and the flag. God Bless the U.S.A!


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