Have an old American Flag? Here's how to dispose of it respectfully, and get a brand new one for free

Stock photograph of a man holding a folded American Flag
Stock photograph of a man holding a folded American Flag

Showing respect to veterans and the flag they fought to defend is front and center for many Eastern Iowans in November, but what’s the best way to show respect to our country’s flag? 

Many people know the basics: that you honor the United States' flag by keeping it off of the ground, never flying it upside down, and you should always face the flag with your hand over your heart when saying the Pledge of Allegiance. But when the time comes to retire older flags, there are processes and procedures to follow in order to show respect. 

This is a focus that is very important to Jacob Wittrock and Scott Greenman at Stewart Baxter Funeral and Memorial Service. That’s why they have created a special program that helps people properly dispose of American flags that need to be retired - and replaces them with brand new flags at no cost.

“While many people love to display the flag, a lot of folks are unsure how to handle it when the flag is torn or just worn out,” Wittrock said. 

And Greenman added that being sure how to handle the flag properly can be confusing. 

“You can do a flag retirement yourself, but it can be a lot of work to do it right. Why not let Stewart Baxter make it easy?” said Greenman.

The American Flag doesn’t often come to mind as a recycled item. That’s because we hang them proudly and the thought of throwing them in the garbage bin (or even the recycling bin) would feel unpatriotic - but most people agree that it is far worse to hang a tattered or damaged flag than to dispose of it properly. 

But, what does it mean to properly and respectfully dispose of a flag? There are several methods that are all considered correct.


Ceremonial Flag Burning

Before you gasp at the thought, according to Wikipedia, this method of burning is in no way haphazard or unpatriotic, rather it requires a specific ceremony, where the flag is folded correctly, laid on a bonfire and burned patriotically. While burning the flag, people in attendance should salute, or having someone at the burning ceremony recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem. 

But the flag’s material must be taken into consideration first. 

When the code for American Flag disposal was written, almost all flags were made of organic cloth. However, today many flags are made from nylon, polyester, or other artificial materials. When burned, these modern materials may produce fumes that are harmful to the environment or your health. So, be sure to check the material of your flag before you make the choice to burn it on your own.

This process is often used by individuals retiring their personal flags, at home. But what if you don’t feel comfortable burning your flag on your own? What if you don’t know how to properly fold a flag? Or what if you simply can’t build a fire on your property? Then you have other options.

Flag Burial

To bury the flag, begin by finding a dignified wooden box - it should be of good quality and construction, as this box will serve as the flag's vessel as it is interred in the ground.

Fold the flag correctly and respectfully, place it in the box and then bury it in the ground.

You may even consider giving your flag a short "funeral". Give a speech on the importance of the flag then stand at attention as the flag is lowered into the ground. Observe a moment of silence as the flag is buried. You may even choose to mark the burial location with a small, patriotic marker.

Flag Shredding

You may also shred your flag. Shredding an American flag may seem violent, but the US Army's Heraldry Institute assures us that shredding is an acceptable disposal method, provided it is done with reverence. 

Use a sharp pair of scissors to slowly and accurately separate the thirteen stripes, leaving the blue star-spangled field intact. 

After the flag is cut into pieces, place it in a receptacle fit for burial and bury it following the above procedures or ceremoniously burn the pieces one by one, starting with the stripes and ending with the blue field.

Give Your Flag to a Qualified Organization for Disposal

Finally, specific United States government organizations offer services to conduct the ceremony to properly dispose of flags for no charge, upon request.

In the Linn County Area, Stewart Baxter Funeral and Memorial Services are working with the local American Legion and Boy Scout Groups to help you respectfully retire an old flag- and even better than that, they are offering a new flag to replace each of the retired flags- at no cost to you.

Jacob, Scott and the staff at Stewart Baxter Funeral and Memorial Services, really cares about veterans - and the American flag - and they follow through on this feeling by hosting this flag retirement ceremony each year - with help and assistance from the Legion and the Scouts.

From now through November 16th, drop your tattered flag off at the Cedar Rapids (9am-5pm) or Mt. Vernon (1pm-5pm) Stewart Baxter locations from Monday through Friday and you can get a brand new 3-5 foot flag to replace it. Stewart Baxter and the service groups will make sure that your old one is properly disposed of.

So, this Veterans Day season, think about your flags and what condition they are in. It’s easy to overlook a flag that has already seen its best days, but it’s also easy to retire it and at the same time to get a new one to replace it thanks to Stewart Baxter Funeral and Memorial Services.

For more information, contact Stewart Baxter at 319-362-2147 or 319-895-8425.

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