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Campfires and Flag Retirement

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Here' my situation. I served 10 years in the Navy, 6 in the Navy Reserve and 8 in the Army Reserve. I retired in June of this year. I love my country, I continue to be on a stand-by list if needed and continue to be will to die for my country, and my flag. I know many soldiers serving in downtown Bagdad today.


I told my wife when we got married that I had never been arrested. However, if I ever see someone dessecrate the flag, I would wind up in jail for beating the daylights out some SOB who did it.



Yes, we usually hold flag raising and lowering ceremonies.

I thanked the fellow had placed the parts into the fire. It turns out he is also a veteran. He told me that wcouts would keep watch over the fire all night, bury the ashes and retrieve the grommets to be presented to the person who originally owned the flag.

I appreciate your comments on the brevity of your ceremony, thanks.




I can't count the campfire programs I've been too, participated in, etc. I'm not even trying to establish National policy. I'm asking questions. I simply believe that cubs are too young. Because I believe cubs are too young, doesn't mean I said that all cubs are too young. Some Boy Scouts may be too you too. Big difference between an 11 year old Tenderfoot and 17 year old Eagle, right?



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I used to be a member of a church based Troop that had a cemetery. Every year they would replace the flags for Veterans Day. The man who was in charge of it would notify the Boy Scout troop, and we'd have a meeting where the program revolved around going out and replacing the flags, and then burning of the old faded flags. These were grave sized flags so it wasn't very showy, but there was usually one or two full sized flags, that he had been given through the year.


The gentleman who conducted it talked about the flag, and being in the armed services and what it meant to him. Then during the flag burnings, we went around the scouts, and they would add their thoughts about our country, and the flag.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have no problem with youth, cubs, younger Scouts, etc, attending or participating in flag retirement ceremonies.


I do think it is important though to briefly explain the retirement so that all understand. Any no one should be forced to participate or observe.


The U.S. Flag code contains just one brief statement about retirement of the U.S. Flag (the word "destroyed" is used). The preferred method is burning. Contrary to popular belief, there is no detailed specifics on how to retire a U. S. Flag in the code.


Among the things I have heard about flag retirements are:


1. Only patriotic, or veterans organizations can retire flags.


2. Only adults can retire flags.


3. The flag has to be cut up before burning it (usually with a statement that cutting up a flag makes it no longer a flag - is it not a cut up flag???)


4. The ashes from the flag have to be buried.


5. A campfire used for a flag retirement cannot be used for any other purpose.


6. Those observing a flag retirement must turn their backs on the burning flag.


7. Ashes from a flag retirement campfire cannot be gathered and kept


8. And so on.


Many people have been taught, have observed, or believe that there is a certain procedure that must be followed to retire a flag. Simply not required by the code.


Bottom line is, the U.S. Flag code contains none of those. Perhaps some of those procedures come from organizations that retire flags, but they are not in the code.


The U. S. Flag code even says that the flag itself is considered a living thing. That is something that I personally believe. Retirements of the U. S. Flag can be very moving, very emotional and that should be taken into consideration when comducting one.


Personally, I beieve that cutting up a U.S. Flag to retire it is desecration of the Flag. That is my belief - others disagree. I won't participate in a retirement ceremony if the Flag is to be cut up. Just my belief. The code does not say to cut up the Flag. Not only do I think it is wrong, I think it is unnecessary.


Retiring a flag to me is similar to a funeral of a friend or loved one.


Personally, the flag retirements that I have seen that are the best in my opinion, are brief, without much ceremony, but with due respect.




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  • 2 weeks later...

Our pack just had a flag retirement ceremony at our Fire & Knife campout, it was the first time it had been done in about 4 years, so many of the scouts and parents were new to this experience. We has about 8 large flags, and about 200 of the flags that go on graves of veterans, which the boys all folded during the day.


It was late afternoon at dusk, he scout master had just the Webelos pulled aside to discuss the meaning and importance of the ceremony as they were each going to do a reading. After the Webelos did their part, the rest of the scouts lined up (about 25 of them) and each took turns putting a folded flag into the fire.


I am telling you, you could have heard a pin drop of the forest floor. My older son is a Webelos with ADD and even he was still and silent. I also have a Wolf, and he was silent. None of the scouts or siblings (my 5 year old daughter included)ran, walked, talked or moved. It was a lovely ceremony and I think the kids and adults really learned a lot.


So yes, I think the cubs can handle it, and you can't start teaching respect and citizenship too soon.


Happy Veteran's Day! I've got to go get ready for a parade!

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  • 1 month later...


Thank you for the link. That seems manageable. Brief, concise and to the point, not some contrived story about what each stripe stands for etc..


I like what a friend told me about retrieving the grommets and returning them to the person who gave the flag for retirement and about burying the ashes.



Gonzo1(This message has been edited by Gonzo1)

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My father is a vet of the Korean era and heavily involved in his American Legion Post. The Post conducts flag retirements in a cemetary using the strictest guidelines set forth. I am sorry I do not know these guidelines but I think others said it best that campfires on your weekend outing are for fun and fellowship, and I have never seen the ceremony performed. Vets dont LIKE burning flags, even if it is proper.

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I can't recall seeing a flag retirement at a campfire before 9/11. Since, I have seen several each year. Most have involved some long piece of poetry and/or cutting the flag into strips. These are solemn, dignified and *long*.


In reality, a thirty minute ceremony quickly becomes undignified because everyone starts squirming while attempting to stand at attention. I'm one of the worst due to foot injuries sustained while in the service.


Back in the spring, I was the scribe at Wood Badge. One of the patrol leaders came to me- his troop guide told him that the scribe would have the "official ceremony" for a flag retirement. I politely informed him that there was no such thing. I also expressed my opinions on the subject and told him to make up his own ceremony.


It was great. It lasted about 10 minutes. They asked everyone to stand and then said the Pledge of Allegiance. They then asked every Army veteran to come up and form a line, then they placed one flag on each of the two fires. They then did this for the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.



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I had my first Flag Retirement Ceremony way back when I was a Tenderfoot Scout... in 1968. Place was Camp Whitsett, of the then San Fernando Valley Council. Now it's the camp for the Western Los Angeles Council.


There, I learned the way I still believe is the most effective: Body from the Field, burn in two separate fires.

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Funny thing about fist times and flag retirements, the first flag retirement I saw was as a scout. Our Scoutmaster would have cord tied to the four corners of the flag and the flag would be brought over the fire, the heat from the flames would push the flag up and then the four scouts, each at a corner would slowly bring the flag down closer to the flames. The flag would bow up more as the heat grew. Stopping just before contact with the flames the flag almost glows, then bursts into flames and is gone. Back in the 60's when I first saw this done all flags were cotton and many were considerably faded, but they always seemed to glow with brand new colors just before they burst into flame. The new synthetic flags behave almost the same way, they bow up and fairly explode when they reach the combustion point. I have seen a few flag retirement ceremonies done other ways, but feel the way I describe is the best.


One thing to consider is how to retire huge "Perkins" or auto dealer flags. I saw one that was folded in the normal manner and placed on a wire grill in the midst of the flames, all it did was smoke and turn into a big black ball of molten plastic or whatever material it was. While I am not a fan of cutting the flag apart, if retiring it piece by piece prevents a black smoky flaming ball, I could see it.


I think what John -in - KC and mine experiences do make a point, youth scouts age (such as we were) can view a flag retirement with respect as it made such an impression on us that the way we saw it done is the only way we want to see it done now. The bottom line is that the retirement is done with dignity and respect.(This message has been edited by OldGreyEagle)

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Absolutely agree. Retiring a "storm flag" (4'6" x 10') is one thing.


Retiring a "Garrison flag" or Perkins flag or Auto Mall flag (19'6" x 40') is quite another, and needs to be done in such a way as it will be destroyed when done.


I suspect the best thing to do with these behemoths is not only strip them, but halve the strips.

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  • 2 weeks later...

While at our winter campout we retired a flag. A grandfather of one of the boys had given us the flag to "dispose of properly". We were in a cabin that had a fireplace and the fire was buring. Everything was cleared from the center of the cabin to allow for two ranks of facing scouts. The SPL mounted the flag on his 6' walking staff and stood on the end of the line until the SM said "For it's last time, present the colors." The SPL came forward to the fireplace, and called out three names and those scouts came forward, removed the flag, folded it properly and handed it to the SPL. They then returned to rank. The SPL carefully placed the flag in the flames, stepped back and said "Scouts, salute." The salute was held until the flag was no longer recognizable. The boys then stood for another length of time until the triangle of the flag was no longer recognizable and the SPL quietly said, "Dismissed".


It was apparent afterwards that a couple of the scouts had been moved to tears but no one said anything. It was by far the most impressive ceremony I had ever seen. The rather surprising thing about the ceremony was that it was not planned out at all. I had earlier handed the flag to the SPL and said we need to retire this flag appropriately by burning it. The rest was done by the boys.


I suggested that the grommets be found and returned to the owner, which the boys did the next morning when cleaning up the fireplace at the end of the activity.


I think the most impressive part of the whole ceremony was the silence and the time I had with my feelings and thoughts not being interrupted by anything other than what I was experiencing.

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  • 4 years later...



First I'd like to say thank you for your past, and ongoing, service to this great nation. Please don't construe anything I say as disrespect to you, when your county called, you answered, and that commands my respect.


I understand what you're questioning, and it's good that we ask these type of questions, and discuss them as scouters. I've asked myself is a flag retirement something for just older scouts; is a flag retirement to much of a downer for a campfire; and are we making flag retirements too common. These are weighty questions.


I was unable to serve in the armed forces due to a physical deformity. However, my forefathers did, from my father who is a Marine, to my ancestor who served under General Clark in the American Revolution. I was raised to respect Old Glory, to be a good citizen, and to love my country. As a scout leader I see it as my obligation to instill these traits in today's youth; it is this obligation that made me ask these questions.


I laid my doubts to rest by speaking to the scouts, and asking their opinions. Although the cubs did struggle with overlong retirements, they were moved by the experience, becoming better citizens, and having greater respect for the flag, and what it represents. A shorter retirement of a single flag is an easy solution. It is true that a flag retirement sets a somber mood for a campfire closing, and is not the best choice for every campfire; in my opinion you have to consider the purpose of the campfire in question. As far as the frequency of retirements, they should not be a common part of a troop's program, be held apart, as something truly special.


As far as who may retire the colors, if you read the entire portion of the code that flag protocol is listed in, it is clear that the code is listing those other than the military who may retire The Flag of the United States. It goes without saying that our servicemen, and women, are the guardians of Old Glory, and all she represents.


This is my opinion, take it for what it is.

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I must beg to differ with you my good man.


We did them once a year at our old Pack. Boys fought over who would guard the ashes and get the grommets.


As a Boy Scout Troop we are constantly sought to do flag retirements; in fact we have a backlog. After the 9/11 10th anniversary at our Webelos/Boy Scout campout we retired over 3,000 flags that had been used at a memorial. Took a while but all the boys had a chance to lay a flag on the fire in memorial of someone. Was very moving.


I am sure that (especially the long narrated and somewhat contrived this strip symbolizes, etc ceremony)that some boys are bored but I think the majority enjoyed them and got something out of it. Folks just don't do much solemn civic ceremony much anymore, at one time it was quite common.


It is part of being a good citizen and, besides, the right thing to do.

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