Yep! You read that right. I burned an American flag today. According to the United States Flag Code, burning the flag is illegal, but what I did wasn’t against the law. I didn’t burn this flag in anger, or in protest, and I wasn’t performing a magic trick. I burned it because after years of vigilant service atop the flagpole in my front yard, braving wind, rain, wind, snow, wind, hail, wind, sun, and a lot of wind, this flag was starting to show its wear.
Ok, that’s a bit of an understatement. The most recent windstorm that hit Seattle tore the bottom stripe from the flag, and it was hanging in tatters. It was time to take drastic action.
I replaced the tattered flag with a new one from the local hardware store and placed the old flag in the rear cargo area of our SUV. According to that same US Flag Code:
When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.
I had intended to give it to our local Boy Scout troop so they could perform a retirement ceremony. However, as I packed the SUV for a trip to our property in Eastern Washington this weekend, I noticed the flag. We have a large wood-burning fireplace in our house there, and knowing that I’d have a fire going all weekend, I changed my mind and decided to retire this flag myself.
I’ve attended, participated in, and even officiated at a number of flag retirement ceremonies ever since I was a Cub Scout. Some were simple, like when we said the Pledge of Allegiance as we lay our troop’s old flag on a campfire. Others were more elaborate, like when we shot flaming arrows over the heads of attendees in an outdoor amphitheater to retire an 18′ wide flag that had flown over a Scout camp for years. Others were impromptu, like when we accidentally let the flag touch the ground at a church July 4th breakfast.
Today’s retirement ceremony (it’s improper to call it a “flag burning” ceremony) was a simple one. I got the fire blazing, put a fresh log on top of the heap, and then laid the tattered remains of our flag on top of the log. Being a nylon flag, it quickly melted and dripped over the logs, and then the liquid ignited and burned violently for a few minutes. It wasn’t fancy, but it was impressive.
For those who are curious, it is also acceptable to enclose a retired flag in a bag or box and bury it. But I’m old school when it comes to these types of things, and I think “Old Glory” should always go out, literally, in a blaze of one.