On Thursday, July 4, 2019, millions of Americans will raise the stars and stripes to its high-flying glory to celebrate the nation’s independence. While some choose to have Old Glory wave year-round, others raise the flag only for significant days on the calendar. And, when you discover your flag is tattered or damaged, retiring the flag is the proper thing to do.
Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium has made flag disposal simple and respectful, and has collected more than 1,000 retired American flags over the previous two years in a special red, white and blue mailbox located at 243 Hanover Street in Manchester, New Hampshire. Burning a flag to ash is one of the recommended ways to dispose of it once it becomes tarnished or torn. The crematorium is used at Phaneuf to reduce the flags to ash.
While flag disposal could be done at home by properly burning, we do not recommend it. Many flags produced these days are made of nylon or have been treated with chemicals to make them more difficult to burn to discourage lighting them on fire in protest. Burning plastics and chemicals could produce harmful elements into your immediate environment if you try to retire them by burning at home in a fire pit, for example. It’s better to be safe than sorry by not exposing your family or neighbors to potentially unhealthy burning gases into the air.
By simply dropping an old flag into the box at Phaneuf, you also avoid having to contact your local fire department to inquire how to properly and safely burn the flag.
The United States Flag Code states that a flag should be burned in a dignified manner when it is no longer seen as a proper symbol of the country. Proper burning includes reducing the flag to nothing more than ash, with no remnants of fabric remaining. This is ensured by retiring the flag at Phaneuf.
The Flag Code also offers these points of etiquette:
- When a flag is lowered, it should never touch the ground and should only be touched by hands and then folded neatly (or ceremoniously) for storage.
- The U.S. flag should be poised above any other flags, including state, community or societal flags.
- No part of the flag should be worn as a costume or outfit. A patch or pin worn near the heart is an option if you choose to show patriotism by wearing a symbol.
- The flag should never be draped over an object as decoration. Bunting with red, white and blue can be used for this purpose.
- In the case of a funeral service, it is appropriate for anyone to have an American flag drape the coffin. Veterans of the armed services, though, are provided a free flag for this purpose. Other veteran benefits can be found here.
Flag Placement for Funerals
- When a flag is used to drape over a closed casket, it should be placed so the union is at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased.
- If a flag is draping a casket that is partially open at the top, the union area should be at the top of the closed portion of the casket, with two folds of the remaining flag underneath.
- With a fully-open casket, the flag will be folded in the traditional triangle and should lay just above the left shoulder of the deceased. Proper folding of the flag can be found here.
The Fourth of July can be used as a reminder to check the quality of your existing flag. Remember, a clean, tear-free flag should be the only symbol of freedom that should be waving.