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  • Campfires and Flag Retirement

    I know I'm going to ruffle some feathers with some of you, but here goes:

    Why does it seem lately that campfire programs must include a flag retirement?

    I've been involved with scouting for over 20 years. Lately it seems that campfire programs include Flag Retirement ceremonies. I know we are now in a more patriotic period, but I believe scouts, and cubs in particular are too young for flag retirement ceremonies. In my opinion, our youth need to see Old Glory going up a pole, not going up in smoke. Let's leave Flag Retirement ceremonies for the American Legion, VFW or some other veterans group.

    Our council recently had Webelos Woods where a poorly planned campfire program included a flag retirement. I recently retired from the Armed Forces and had never been to a flag retirement. I had never before seen one as a scout or leader, but I saw one 2 weeks ago. The participants presented a dignified ceremony with nice patriotic things to say. I admit, I sobbed like a kid. I believe the scouts and cubs are just too young, they can not handle or understand the gravity of Flag Retirement.

    Having a Flag Retirement at campfire programs will have everyone leave the fire feeling down, sad and depressed, I did. Shouldn't we have skits, songs and jokes and be happy?

    I just read another post in a different thread that a cub pack is or was planning a Flag Retirement for their outing. If we keep this up, it may become common place and might lose (or diminish) its meaning, like a cap and grown graduation ceremony for kindergarten, nursery school, 6th grade, etc.

    How can we discourage Flag Retirements at the cub scout / boy scout level?

    Thank you.

  • #2
    To quote Colonel Sherman T Potter, Cavalry, Medical Corps...

    Oh, Horsehockey!

    REALITY CHECK: My first summer camp as a Boy Scout was at that great site of the (then) San Fernando Valley Council, Camp Whitsett.

    It was July, 1968.

    Guess what we had as one of our camp campfires? Yessiree, Bob! A FLAG RETIREMENT.


    I say: Teach the youth Have a Flag Retirement as part of a special campfire. Trust me, it sticks with them.


    • #3


      I'm simply saying that I believe cubs in particular, and many boys scouts in general are too young to understand the meaning of what would be going on. Even some of the parents didn't quite get it.

      The narrator said some patriotic things for each stripe as it was being cut and then placed in the fire. One parent said afterward "gee, I didn't realize there was a meaning for each stripe of the flag?" I informed him that the flag already existed when JFK said "ask not what your country can do for you....." or MLK saying "I have a dream...." and then he realized the contrived meaning for each individual stripe, but rather some patriotic message.

      I agree that good citizenship is an aim of scouting. I also agree that scouts should know HOW to do it, I don't agree that they need to see it or do it.

      It seems that Flag Retirements are becoming the 'trendy' thing to do, not some 'special campfire' but the everyday campfire. 7 - 10 year olds may not understand why their 40+ year old leaders are crying like little girls seeing Old Glory go up in flames. Got an old flag? I suggest giving it to the American Legion.



      • #4
        From patriotism (flag retirement) to sports (hockey). Interesting. Anyway, I'm a little sympathetic to Gonzo1's message regarding the cubs. However, this is a discretionary thing for leaders and programs and if someone has a way to do this in a meaningful, educational way, I think cubs can handle it. As Gonzo1 says, though, most won't 'get' it, nor will their parents...and for them it is a meaningless gesture.
        I am not sure that the problem is really that widespread. Around here the flags either last a lot longer or else we just let them wear a lot more before they're retired. Either way, I've only seen a retirement ceremony at a campfire every 3rd or so camporee. When I was CM we only had a pack campfire twice a year anyway and then the cubs were, well, being cubs. Ceremonies were insufficiently controlled or organized for flag retirements. Maybe I should have tightened up on them a little more....


        • #5
          well lets see here:

          According to Title 36, section 176, of the United States Code: "No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America;"

          Paragraph K of this same section, states: "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

          Oddly enough no mention that the VFW. American Legion et al shoudl be the only ones holding such ceremonies. Well you said you may ruffle feathers so here's some ruffled. My son's Eagle Project was to replace American Flags at the graves of veterans at 6 local cemetaries and then collect American Flags that were no longer fit for display. He collected over 600 flags and put together readings and had a pal from the band put together an ensemble that played patriotic songs while the ceremony was going on. He read the opening quote and started the ceremony. Each flag had a string tied at the corners, the flag was brought over the flames and slowly lowered, the updraft would catch the flag and then it would burst into flames a couple inches above the flames. The VFW post that sponsored his project was quite impressed with this patriotic young man and three of the Post attended his Eagle Court of Honor.

          In our community the 9-11 Remembrance has become synonomous with a flag retirement. In the past 5 years all the 9-11 ceremoies have been planned by the Boy Scouts, boys of different troops comming together. A Flag Retirement is the center of the activities. The local American Legion and VFW posts have thnaked the boys because the posts dont have the membership to put on such an event. When I see the boys working on and at the event, I think they understand. When a Cub Scout participates, as well as Brownies (at the first ceremony it was established anyone who showed up in uniform was allowed to participate)I can't guarantee you they understand the complete meaning, but they do grasp that this is a big deal and something a lot of adults care deeply about and they get to help.

          Let's see, developing caring adults who are proud to be citizens, sounds like our mission is in there somewhere.


          • #6
            How does one teach Cub Scouts what is important about the flag?

            They say the pledge at every opening of every meeting. Do they undertstand that they are really pledging allegiance to a country? Or what allegiance means?

            Our Pack retires flags at each of our two yearly campouts, usually on Friday evening. The boys are involved in the ceremony. It is done with dignity and respect. They do not run around, hop and holler. They understand that it is an important ceremony. They learn things like the stripes represent the 13 colonies, and the stars represent the states of the union. We live in one of the 13 colonies. We usually hold back the 11th stripe and ask the boys what it represents. They begin to relate what they have heard in history class with what happens in their daily lifes. They learn that the flag is a symbol and to treat it with respect.

            Do the tigers get it the first time? Heck no. Do they begin to understand that flags are important symbols and look at it differently. Sure they do.

            Raising and lowering the flag at scouts events is one part of the life cycle of a flag. Retiring a flag is another important part of showing respect for the flag.

            Do you take cub age boys to funerals? Do they fully understand that the person is dead? We have to begin to teach them respect.


            • #7
              I think you're selling "cub scout / boy scout level" boys way, way short. Yes, maybe they won't "get" every nuance but, like you said in your original post, most adults don't either. As one of the Aims of Scouting is fostering citizenship, there's absolutely no reason anyone should be looking for reasons for discouraging Flag Retirement ceremonies.


              • #8

                I see nothing in the Flag Code, on the Legion website, or the VFW website that says only they can conduct a Flag destruction.

                My Battalion Commander, back in 1981, had us destroy one during a field problem. His Field color was worn out, he tasked the 3 shop and the CSM to get it done while on FTX.

                My Dad is a member of American Ex Prisoners of War and American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. His Commander in World War II, Colonel Paul Bunker of the 59th Coast Artillery, had a Regimental team destroy most of the Color that flew over Corregidor when the fortress islands surrendered on May 6, 1942 to the Japs. The tiny remnant, sewn into the late Colonel Bunker's shirt (he died in captivity in 1943) is now a relic of honor at West Point!

                Scouts can and have retired the Color through the years. Instilling the value that our Nation is worth a moment of honor and respect is a worthy thing, even for 8 year olds. Do you have to keep kiddlets standing to attention for 45 minutes? NO!!! The US Code says "with respect." There is nothing that forces people to lock heels; just approach the event with a little less awe than you would attending a High Mass at a Catholic or Lutheran church.

                Sorry, this IS a hot button!


                • #9
                  " 7 - 10 year olds may not understand why their 40+ year old leaders are crying like little girls seeing Old Glory go up in flames."

                  That alone is reason enough to do it. What better way to teach them than by showing how important it is to you.

                  (BYW: my three year old knows enough to stand when the flag comes down the road. May not know exactly why but she stands up right next her daddy same as I did next to mine)

                  On the other hand if it is turning into a game and play time then it's not working, move on for a while and come back to it next year.


                  • #10
                    As a Scoutmaster, I have found that including a flag retirement ceremony in our troop-only campfire at summer camp was a wonderful experience, especially for the 10/11 year olds on their first summer camp.

                    Uniformly, they were deeply moved by the symbolism and reverence and patriotism. Heck, I feel that we would be depriving them of a valuable experience if we didn't offer this opportunity.

                    I can see how young Cubs would not understand what was going on, but, as I don't have experience with them, I'll defer to others who do.


                    • #11
                      A few weeks ago at work, a lady came up to me (who I had not met yet), and handed me a plastic bag containing a tattered flag. One of those cheap cotton ones that you buy at K-mart and are faded out within a few weeks. She said, "someone told me you were with the Boy Scouts and would know what to to do with this." I said, "thank you very much. I'd be honored to have my Troop retire this flag properly." She could have just put it in the trash and bought another one. But she knew that was not right, and found a Scout to handle it for her. I am still humbled and honored. My troop will continue to do flag retirements as often as necessary.


                      • #12
                        Very well, you folks are saying your TROOPS are doing Flag Retirements. With all the years I've been in scouts, we had NEVER done them. Okay okay. I still say the cubs are way too young. At the Flag Retirement I recently attended, cubs were squirming, talking, walking around, generally not interested or mature enough to know what was going on. Part of the problem was the poor campfire program, aside from the retirement, there really wasn't a program, a few kids with jokes, 2 lame songs.


                        • #13
                          Marginally related to this thread...a long time back I noted that one of my distant neighbors sometimes flies the Confederate flag on the same pole as and ABOVE the American flag. Now I have noticed he has changed things a bit. He is flying the Confederate flag, and a large swastika flag of some sort. The American flag is no longer there. I'll get a photo sometime for my collection.


                          • #14
                            Gonzo1. I do have a cubscout flag retirement ceremony to share.

                            Several years ago, when I will still in cubs with my boys, we attended a District Cuboree. After the campfire program (that in our case was very well done, I'm sorry yours wasn't), several adult leaders retired a flag, with the help of a few Cubs. Before the actual burning, the purpose was explained very clearly to the boys. It was not a lengthy explanation, but rather a concise easily understood commentary suitable for young boys. They did not tear the flag and explain all the stripes, etc., but had four Cubs, one on each corner, hold the flag over the fire until the center caught, then folded the corners in as they laid it down.

                            The Cubs were completely silent during the ceremony, which only lasted about 5 minutes, in keeping with their short attention spans.

                            After the ceremony, several parents came up to me and said they never knew that was the proper way to dispose of a flag, and what a wonderful thing to teach the boys.

                            And, yes, our Scouts should be seeing Old Glory going up the flag pole while standing at attention with the Scout Salute. They should also observe proper attention at flag lowering and all learn how to properly fold a flag. Hopefully, this is being done at ALL your Cub campouts.

                            I will agree that if a flag retirement is done at every campout, it may become just something to do in their eyes, rather than the dignified and solemn ceremony it should be.


                            • #15
                              So, Gonzo, You are at one scout run Flag Retirement Ceremony and it goes badly in your mind so you think the answer is to prevent all Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs from participating nationally? Did you offer to help run the next one to be sure dignity and respect are present? Do you often experience something once and then decide national policy should be shaped based on a single empirical event?