Flying the American flag is a display of patriotism that demonstrates respect for it and the country it represents, but when a flag is worn, faded, tattered or not fit for public display, it should be retired in a respectful manner. People who own flags want to do that, but many do not know how.
Every Flag Day, June 14, veterans organizations, Scouting groups and others host flag retirement ceremonies for the proper disposal of flags that are no longer fit for display. Locally, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge 217 hosts a ceremony on that date in conjunction with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1191.
The Elks will hold its ceremony at 5 p.m. Friday at its lodge at 301 N. Fourth St. The ceremony is open to the public.
Those needing to properly dispose of an American flag may bring it there or to the VFW post anytime throughout the year for retirement.
VFW Post 1191 First Adjutant Dan Cook said that flags don't have to be retired on Flag Day, and if the post receives an abundance of flags, it would hold another ceremony later in the year.
Cook described the ceremony hosted by the Elks lodge and the method of retiring a flag. The traditional way of retiring a flag respectfully is by burning it.
"There are several ways of (retiring a flag)," he said. "One is they cut the blue field out of the flag and then separate each stripe and burn it that way. Then, after that first flag is done, then the rest of the flags are unfolded, inspected and retired by burning those, also.
"At the end, when everything is all done and the ashes are cooled, some people pick the ashes up and get rid of them, but with the VFW and some of the other veterans organizations, they take (the ashes of) those flags that are destroyed and then bury them."
Cook called the retirement ceremony "a good educational program" for the public.
Cook said the average life span of an American flag flown outdoors is about seven months to a year before it starts to show signs of wear.
"When the blue field starts fading from the sun or it's getting tattered and torn at the ends, where the wind snaps the flag, it doesn't matter how strong that flag is; it'll start fraying," he said. "Once a flag is faded out or starts to be ripping, then it's time to retire the flag."
Cook said the local VFW has about 300 flags that people brought to be retired, and the Elks lodge has a similarly large number of flags ready to be retired.
"Even the stick flags -- these little flags that the kids wave during the parades and stuff or laid out at cemeteries on Veterans Day and Memorial Day -- it's still the Stars and Stripes, so instead of them throwing them in the trash, we gather them up, and those are also added to our retirement ceremony," he said.
"It's better to retire them properly. Some people just throw them in the trash, and that's what we're trying to stay away from. We want to do it the proper way instead of finding the flag in a landfill somewhere. Everybody who has risked their lives or given their lives for the flag -- it needs a better retirement than just being thrown in the trash."