Last week, I was approached to help “retire” flags as the other funeral home in the area has recently changed their corporate policy and will no longer honor this gesture. Even after 25 years of funeral-directing, I can still come across requests that require me to do a little research. This is okay; it keeps me on my toes. I knew the U.S. Flag Code calls for burning a flag when it is put into retirement, but how does this differ from someone practicing political demonstration by burning a flag? When do you know the flag is ready to retire?
According to the U.S. Flag Code, “The flag when it is [in such condition that it is] no longer a fitting emblem of display should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” I learned there is a proper ceremony that is conducted each time a flag is put into retirement. It is similar to how we would honor our loved ones.
It starts with gathering information about the history of the flag– a type of eulogy, if you will. Where was the flag flown? How long was it flown? Were there significant national events during its time? Then, once its history is gathered, the ceremony can start. It begins with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag (one last time). Then the “eulogy” is presented.
During the eulogy, the flag is held up and is not to touch the ground. Now, this is the part that is important. The flag must be cut before it is burned. “A flag ceases to be a flag when it is cut into pieces,” [according to the Flag Code]. The canton, or the blue section with white stars, is cut first and is left whole, signifying the union of the 50 states. Then, each stripe is cut away. It is important that while cutting you are being as precise as possible. In the end, you will have 14 pieces, one for each stripe and one canton. All the pieces are placed one by one into the flame. It is suggested that, during the incineration process, we sing patriotic songs or share patriotic stories.
So, come to find out, just like the rest of us, even Old Glory has her time.
McKenzie is the owner of McKenzie’s Mortuary in Long Beach.