Military Life

How to properly retire an American Flag

The American flag, also lovingly known as "the Stars and Stripes" and "Old Glory," is one of the most famous patriotic symbols in the world. Over the years, it's been modified to reflect our country's growth and waves triumphantly across our great nation. We associate our nation's emblem with the freedom and democracy the US champions.


The flag has been raised on various battlefields throughout the world and many Americans hoist it outside of their homes as a badge of loyalty. But nothing lasts forever and, eventually, flags need to be removed from operational service. When an American flag can no longer be used, the symbol must be removed from service in a dignified way.

So, how do you properly dispose of our nation's flag?

Members of the Dover Air Force Base Honor Guard prepare the American flag by properly folding during a retreat ceremony.(U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

According to the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, first, the flag should be folded up in the customary manner. This means holding the flag waist-high and folding the lower half of the stripe section lengthwise over the field of stars. Then, folded again, keeping the blue stars facing up.

Next, triangularly fold the striped corner of the already-folded edge to meet the open side of the flag. Continue making triangular folds until you've covered the entire length of the flag. Once the flag is prepared, it's to be placed in a fire. Any individuals in attendance must stand at the position of attention, salute the flag, and state the Pledge of Allegiance, which is to be followed by a period of silence.

Lt. Earl Wilson, from the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) places an unserviceable American flag into the fire during an American flag retirement ceremony.(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brandon Cyr)

Once the flag is consumed by the flames, its ashes are to be buried.

Note: Please check with local fire codes before choosing your fire and bury sites.