Flag Day marks retirement for old, worn-out U.S. flags

Sgt. Jonathan Sanders and Cpl. David Beck, automotive maintenance technicians with 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, throw an American flag into a ceremonial fire during a flag burning ceremony June 14, 2012 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. The U.S. Flag Code dictates that "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."


By JERRY WOFFORD | Tulsa World, Okla. | Published: June 13, 2013

TULSA, Okla. — U.S. flags shine in the sun and wave in the wind, but when the elements lead to the end of their lives, they can’t be simply thrown away.

Rick Alfaro, commander of the American Legion Post 1 in Tulsa, said the flags need to be disposed of with respect.

“There is a right way and a wrong way to retire a flag,” Alfaro said. “We do it respectfully."

Alfaro and people around the country will honor the flag and its symbolic importance on Friday, which is Flag Day.

The annual commemoration recognizes June 14, 1777, as the day that the red, white and blue — in its early adaptation — was officially recognized as the flag for the budding country.

Smaller and regional observances of Flag Day occurred after that, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that it became an official national holiday.

Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge issued proclamations asking for a Flag Day in 1916 and 1927, respectively, but it wasn’t until 1949 that Congress passed and President Harry Truman signed a bill to establish June 14 as Flag Day.

Alfaro said the flag has become an important symbol for the sacrifice it represents.

“It’s our guidon, our rally for our country,” he said. “It has been the inspiration for our military members in battle." It has been a tool for education for our democracy."

American Legion Post 1 holds its yearly flag retirement ceremony on Flag Day to recognize the event.

Alfaro said the program will consist of short speeches by post members, and a few flag inspectors will examine the flags to make sure they are, in fact, worn beyond what is appropriate.

A flag is retired when “it’s tattered and torn and frayed and faded,” Alfaro said. “The sun does bad things to them." It tends to wear them out."

After the inspection, the flags are slowly lowered into a fire pit and incinerated.

Alfaro said more than 100 flags of all sizes could be retired." Last year, he said, the post retired one of the very large flags, which took time to incinerate.

The American Legion Post 308 in east Tulsa adds 18 flags in front of their building on Flag Day, said post Commander George Nonamaker.

“We put them out there to show our appreciation for everybody,” he said.

The two posts sometimes partner with others in the area to hold flag retirement ceremonies and make sure the symbol of the country is treated with respect.

“That’s showing to everybody that the U.S. flag is not just a piece of cloth that flies in the air,” Nonamaker said." “We take care of the flag to the very end."