Displaying the American flag is a sign of pride and patriotism that many people show. It’s also a sign of respect.
But when a flag is in a condition where it no longer serves as a respectable symbol of the United States, what should be done?
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge 217 of Paducah is hosting its annual flag retirement ceremony at 3 p.m. Sunday at the lodge at 310 N. Fourth St. Last year’s ceremony was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.
The Elks hold this ceremony on or near Flag Day, which is June 14. On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress officially resolved what the flag of the United States would look like.
Kevin Nelson is the president of Elks Lodge 217, and said flags no longer suitable to be displayed should be respectfully destroyed.
“The United States Flag Code states that a flag that is no longer suitable for display — torn or ripped or weather-beaten — needs to be disposed of, basically by burying or by fire,” he said. “We at the Elks, whenever we do our Flag Day ceremony, we do a flag retirement.”
The ceremony is open to the public and takes about an hour.
“It’s very informative — bring the children, if you like,” Nelson said.
During the Elks’ retirement ceremony, the first flag in a group of 50 has its stripes ceremonially removed, removing the cloth’s identity as the flag, and the components of the flag are then burned.
“Then, we retire another 49 on top of that — one for every state — dedicating it to the veterans, anybody who wants to dedicate a flag to a family member, things of that nature,” Nelson said. “Then, we render those ashes and bury those ashes after the fire is over with, to show respect for the flag.”
Those who have flags that are ready to be retired can be brought to a drop-off place at the Elks Lodge or to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Jackson Harris Post 1191 at 1727 Washington St. The VFW post has a mailbox painted in an American flag design where people can deposit their worn flags.
Nelson recommended that people put the flags in bags when bringing them for retirement.
“Sometimes, we get (flags) and they look pristine — like they’ve never been used,” he said. “Some of them we get, and they’re marked up and so nasty that they deserved to be retired a long time ago.”
Nelson said a lot of people are either unaware of how to properly dispose of an American flag or don’t know where or when to have it done.
“A lot of people just ball them up and throw them away,” he said. “The Elks themselves adopted the American flag as one of their emblems back in the early 1900s, and as a matter of fact, it’s one of our required services that we do every year that’s part of our organization.”
More information about Flag Day and the American flag can be found at military.com/flag-day.