A while back I noticed pictures of scouts (male and female) cutting the canton (blue field) from American flags readying them for disposal. I then noticed pictures of stars cut from American flags that were neatly packaged in very small zip-close bags along with a typed note to our country’s veterans that reads:
“I am part of our American flag that has flown over the USA. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that You are not forgotten.” (Emphasis theirs)
Let’s see what the US Flag Code has to say about a flag that is “tattered and torn” from the sun and wind. TITLE 4, Chapter 1, Sec. 8(k) 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.”
You can imagine my surprise that someone would actually think it is just fine to cut up the flag, whether “tattered and torn” or not, and hand out its pieces as a tribute. So, I found the website for Stars for our Troops and sent them a message. When you submit a message to the organization, you must supply all of your contact information.
My message read: Deplorable! http://www.starsforourtroops.org (Your) company cuts up American flags and gives the stars to vets. So, desecration of our National Ensign is OK as long as you give the stars to “deserving” people.
In return, I received a package in the mail.
The package contained a sandwich-sized zip-close bag with 49 of the smaller zip-close bags, that I mentioned earlier, containing stars cut from flags. There was also a typed note with a hand-written message.
The written message said this:
“You have the opportunity to change and thank 49 people because we appreciate them.” Signed by Susan.
Below is my final response to Susan and her organization’s completely misplaced respect for “our troops”.
I do have an opportunity, one that is multifaceted due to your organization. My first opportunity is to properly dispose of American flag material, something that is every American’s responsibility, whether they accomplish it their self or have an organization do it for them.
Here is the sequence of events that took place to properly dispose of the 49 stars and the small threads that fell from some of them:
First came the removal of all 49 stars, the tiny threads and the pieces of paper inside each bag. Side note, I recycled the paper.
I did not have access to nor did I have the ability to create a fire and place the stars on it as is usual, so I adapted and took a piece of scrap metal that I had, cleaned it off, placed the stars on it and soaked them in lighter fluid.
I then lit the stars and made sure they burned completely. I gathered the remains in a small shovel, buried them in a small spot in my back yard, sounded Taps through my phone and rendered a hand salute during that time (veterans are now authorized to salute in civilian clothes since a National Defense Act of the mid 2000s).
My next opportunity is to educate you and the rest of America as to why it is so very wrong to cut up “tattered and torn” American flags and give them out as a misplaced form of appreciation. This is not some one-up, tit-for-tat game nor is it an attack, this is my version of reproof for you. It may seem harsh, but out of a difficult situation we can learn and grow. In no way should you continue to cut flags and hand out the pieces as tribute. It does not matter how any veteran “feels” when they receive it, what you are doing is wrong and I’ll even attempt to educate my fellow veterans. The “Tears in veteran’s eyes” thing does not phase me. It’s a caring gesture that the veterans appreciate and a great majority of Americans, it seems, have no understanding of flag desecration, especially when it is done with utter sincerity.
I cannot force you to do anything, nor do I really want to. I would appreciate it if you would just stop doing this of your own volition. Stop desecrating flags and handing out the pieces. Here’s a thought, switch to handing out tiny triangle-folded flags. The flags that are on the small sticks that people buy and wave at Independence Day parades would be perfect, people don’t know what to do with them on July 5th anyway, so why not begin a campaign to have them donated/mailed to you. You could fold them into triangles per the Flag Code and even get local JROTC cadets or scouts to help in this. How much more meaningful this would be, a definite win-win for everyone! Here is a picture of a flag that I received in 2010 from a prospective Eagle Scout. It’s a great idea!
The only time a flag is cut is when it is too big to be disposed of safely. It is then cut into manageable pieces and burned (cotton) or shredded (man-made materials). An alternative to this is burying the whole flag in a box. See also Appropriate Flag Retirement.
Standards matter, not feelings.
As I have read in the customs and courtesies of the american legion it was stated that the cannton should not be desecrated by cutting stars out of the blue field because it denotes a tearing apart of our union .I have seen and received these articles myself. I called to find out if this was acceptable and was told not. The grommets that remain after the flag’s retirement (misnomer burning) i clean and try to polish all residue from them .when a veteran has passed I send a pair of grommets to family or spouse in honor of their loved ones service. Tied in red white and blue ribbon. I need to know if I am off the mark by this because of the bracelets and ones used for cravat holders. Or may they be use in other ways such as a necklace or earrings as i have seen on line? Please advise. Much of what I’ve read is conflicting in views. Thank you for your assistance and advice
This sounds like a wonderful idea. Since the flag is property retired, the grommets are what remain. The Flag Code says to bury the ashes, the grommets are not ashes.
I would not go do far as to create jewelry, to me that seems gaudy. The ribbon you use is a nice, simple touch.
Sir, thank you for your education imparted. I will continue to send the grommets with ribbon enclosed and the poem I wrote to explain what they meant. I am teaching flag etiquette to our students in our schools and hope to help them understand our symbol of freedom and the care it deserves and the reverence it is to be shown. I hope I may call upon you for further assistance or if there is printed handbook please advise. My flag education started as a Brownie&Girl scout. Then to the Womens Army Corps. Now with the American legion I want to leave some appreciation behind with the children of today.
You were a, WAC! My mother-in-law was a, WAVE. Thank you for your diligence in educating the next generation.
I’m here whenever you have questions.
SIR, I thank you and all service men and women who served our beloved country! I am a retired Firefighter and my dad is a WWII veteran 97 years old in hospice with days left to live and one of those stars were left in his room with a hand knit red and white striped afghan throw and I was HONORED by the gesture which brought me to tears that someone appreciated his service! I was very appreciative of the respect to my Dad! I respectfully think the code should allow a war flown flag that was warn and tattered and of need to be “disposed” of should be able to still bring dignity to those that have served in there last dying breath! I respect the flag and maybe the code should allow this rather than the protesters burning our flag in the streets!
While I appreciate your thought process here, there already is an allowance in the Flag Code for certain American flags that have flown in unique, historic situations to be preserved.
We don’t go around cutting up our nation’s flag because it might make someone feel good.
I also appreciate your father’s service to our nation and your service to your community.
I am a retired CPO, USN. I currently have possession of the flag that was draped on my uncles casket in 1968. He was killed 12 August 1968 while in Viet Nam. I have read thru all theses comments and your responses to whether or not we should ever cut up our flag.
The flag is still packed away in a box, like it has been for the past 53 years. It is dusty, musty, but not old.
Question: I would like to take parts from it, place those small sections into frames, (with my uncles photo), and give to 7 family members. One being his only remaining brother and 6 nieces and nephews). YOUR Thoughts???
I appreciate your comment here and the fact that you are sincere in sharing your uncle’s flag.
I’m against cutting the flag for any reason other than to safely retire it (is its much too large to burn or shred in one piece).
It’s unfortunate that so many casket flags end up in thrift stores through donations since family doesn’t know what to do with “Uncle Joe’s” flag after 50+ years. That makes your idea so thoughtful.
What about uniform items? Why not give his brother the flag and neices and nephews medals, ribbons, or badges?
All the best to you and your family, Chief.
i did NOT read anywhere in the guidelines, that if the flag is big, it can be cut up.
i did read: “The U.S. flag code requires it to be disposed of respectfully, preferably by burning.”
I’m suggesting the manner in which the organizations say they handle retired flags, removing the canton, (blue field), cleaning it and then removing the stars, seems quite dignified to me.
even you wrote: “There are other means of destroying nylon flags, including recycling. Please stop cutting up our flag.”
i would suggest reusing the stars is a dignified way to “recycle”
For safety reasons, the flag should be cut if it is so large that properly retiring it would be a safety hazard. You did read about it. You read it here.
What one deems dignified is not the issue because that is up to individual interpretation. The issue is following standards. Reusing does not equal recycling. To recycle, the object is essentially destroyed and remade into something else. To reuse, the object is repurposed for another use without destruction.
Recycling a flag means to shred it and use the material to make the same item again or something different. Just like plastic bottles are melted down to make a park bench or plastic bags.
Standards are set forth and are to be followed. We retire worn out flags. Retirement equals dignified burning or shredding (recycling). That’s it. We don’t cut up a flag and hand out pieces just because it makes a few people “feel good”.
I think everyone is making a huge assumption that most Americans know flag etiquette.
Our national flag should not be screen printed and worn, should be flying above all other flags and should be lit at night to mention a few rules and I’ve seen them ignored.
When I was child if the flag touched the floor or if you saw a flag on the ground, you ran over, picked it up and kissed it. I still do it today.
Thank you to all who have served and continue to serve.
When I made a donation to Veterans’ organization in November, I was handed a star by the serviceman that accepted my donation. I was startled as it obviously was cut from an American flag. Is this a new practice?
Apparently, flag desecration is the new form of respect because no one bothers to read guidance. They all “think” they know what they were taught decades ago.
So you can not cut up the flag for face masks for this corona-19?
I don’t think that’s in the spirit of the Flag code restriction. However, I would not put it past someone to think it’s a great way to let everyone know they are super-patriotic as they soil it and eventually throw it away.
I believe you are confusing “preferably” with “MUST”. There are many way to retire the Flag of the United States. Cutting it, burning it, burying it, tearing it are just a few acceptable methods. Once the Blue Field is separated from the stripes….it has ceased being a flag of the USA. When the stars are removed from the blue field…they are just that ….stars. No more symbolism to them than going to a fabric store and buying an embroidered star. The blue field is NOT the flag of the USA.
You can obey flag code AND take out the stars as long as the blue field is removed prior to removing the stars. Your idea of handing out complete flags could easily lead to a flag being accidentally or carelessly thrown away. Now you have a complete Flag of the United States being treated in way that completely violates flag code. It could fall into enemy hands and be used in a way that brings disgrace and disrespect to the USA.
Thank you for your service.
Not confused at all, thank you. However, I’ve failed to ensure that you understand the whole purpose of the article. Having said that, there are very, very few Americans who do not understand the purpose, thankfully. That purpose is:
>>The flag is to be destroyed in a dignified manner.<< Cutting up the canton and handing out the stars is not dignified nor is it destroying. It doesn't matter that the canton or the stars are "NOT the flag of the USA." That thinking goes after the flag has been desecrated. The blue field is not separated from the stripes when it is to be retired.
You put out some great articles with great advise. I agree with almost all of them. However, there is one area I have to disagree with you on.
I’ve noticed several of your articles referring to our Nation’s Flag as “The American Flag”. Which America? North America, Central America or South America? I was taught as a young child it is referred to as “The Flag of The United States”, “The United States Flag” or simply “The U.S. Flag”. I am 59 years old, Retired US Army and Retired Law Enforcement. I have been a member of the Military Honor Guard (since 1981-1998) as well as my Department’s Honor Guard (1993-Present). My Father was a World War II Veteran (Pearl Harbor Survivor) and was known around town as “The Flag Guy”, as a result of his activities. He visited Schools, Civic Organizations and was a member of both the VFW and American Legion, It was he who taught me that. He passed away in 2008, aged 86.
Thank you for your service and your comment.
I’m this case, I’m an American writing about American issues. “American flag” suffices. I’m not aware of a flag that represents North, Central, or South America.
The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard referred to it as the National Ensign. One could make the case, which nation? But, we know what flag is being referenced.
Appreciate the quick response. Guess we could look at it as word play.I’m sure your readers know which Flag you you are referring to in the articles, and I’m good with that. It’s your website, and I will concede to your use of the term “American Flag” in your articles. After all, I guess the same would apply when we refer to ourselves as “American”, right? lol
Keep up the great articles.
I currently have a son serving in the military and heard about the Stars for our Troops project. My father was a veteran of WW2, my father in law was a veteran of Korea. I can trace my family’s military history all the way back to the Revolutionary War. I am a proud American who loves and respects our Flag. I know the proper way to discard of the Flag, and I know how to treat it with respect.
Can I ask your input on this question please? If the stars were collected and given to our military members and veterans, and the rest of the Flag, the stripes, were given to a local veteran’s organization to be retired properly, do you find that acceptable?
Thank you for your input,
This is a good, thoughtful question and I appreciate it. Let’s look at the whole process, but we can stop at the first part: the flag is not to be cut. The only time it is cut is when the flag is so huge that it would be unsafe to burn. Safety is the main concern for the larger flags, which are cut into fours or even sixes, depending on the size. Smaller flags, 5′ x 9.5′ and smaller, should be properly disposed of as a whole flag, that’s the standard. Variation from the written standard is what I find to be so egregious in this case. We know what is correct and yet this organization is flaunting proper, respectful disposal to give veterans “good feelings”. I find this blatant disregard for our Flag Code reprehensible. When we don’t follow established laws, there is a consequence. Not following this standard and cutting up a flag tells others that flaunting standards and disrespect for the intention of showing respect is fine.
Note: Many flags made of nylon or other synthetic materials quite possibly can be recycled rather than letting of noxious gases while burning.
I hope my answer helps.
Here is something that everyone should be made aware of.
Burning of flags and the proper handling of them is something most all Americans are truly aware of. Unfortunately flags that are made today are not made of wool and cotton as they were years ago.
In my town at the ceremony of the Flag burning, black smoke filed the air with carcinogens from the fabric the flags were made of. A tar residue was what was left, no ashes. The in town site of the burning can no longer be used because of this. The ceremony was moved to a different cite and only a few flags are burned and the rest are piling up. Something different needs to be done.
I personally have handed out many Stars to Veterans. As a president of a VFW Auxiliary I have never received a rude comment or disapproval from any Veteran
My husband is a Veteran and a cancer survivor. No more black smoke needs to fill our air. There has got to be a better way then burning
Trash isn’t allowed to be burned in my state unless it’s in a trash to energy plant I hope our country’s leaders can find a better way to retire old flags. Maybe only allowing flags to be made of wool or cotton?
In the meantime I will continue to hand out the beautiful stars from our country’s flag with a personal thank you to those who serve or served our great country
If “most all Americans are truly aware of” appropriate handling of our flag, why does it receive so much disrespect? Including what you do to it?
Because you’ve never received a “rude comment” you justify disgracing our flag. What do you do with the stripes?
There certainly are flags still made from wool, cotton, and silk. The majority purchased by individuals are the all weather type made from nylon.
There are other means of destroying nylon flags, including recycling. Please stop cutting up our flag.
Flags that cannot be burned in your community due to the content of the fabric can be properly disposed of at your local crematorium.
Excellent tip, thank you so much!
I just heard of this campaign and was appalled by the actions of these folks. Your suggestion is a worthy one but sadly never put into place from what I can tell. Very sad.
I SIR AM A VETERAN . I STILL SERVE MY COUNTRY AND MY FELLOW VETERANS BY RENDERING FULL MILITARY HONORS TO DECEASED VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES . YOU ARE CORRECT IN STATING THE PREFERRED WAY OF DISPOSING OF THE FLAG IS BURNING , HOWEVER YOU FAIL TO MENTION AN ALTERNATIVE WAY IS DISASSEMBLY OF THE COMPONENTS ,I.E. STARS,STRIPES AND CANTON ! AS A MEMBER OF A VETERANS ORGANIZATION THAT DISPOSES OF OUR FLAG FOR PEOPLE I TAKE OFFENSE AT YOUR NEGATIVE COMMENTS TO AN ORGANIZATION THAT IS INCREASING THE AWARENESS OF OUR FLAG AND THE RESPECT IT IS DUE . WHAT BETTER WAY THAN TO CARRY A PORTION OF THAT FLAG WITH YOU . THIS VETERANS DAY I WILL BE GOING TO A SCHOOL BY INVITATION AS A VETERAN TO HELP RAISE AWARENESS OF THE FLAG TOO ELEMENTARY STUDENTS I PLAN ON GIVING STARS TO THE CHILDREN . I FIND YOUR REMARKS AND HOLIER THAN THOU ATTITUDE TO BE COMPLETE XXXXXX!
Thanks for your comment. One word that seems to escape some with this viewpoint is, “dispose”. A definition of the word is not: ‘dismantle the flag, hand out the faded and torn pieces, and carry it around’. Dispose means to discard and in the case of the American flag it is meant to be a permanent action.
By all means disagree with the subject, but please refrain from personal attacks and swearing (I replaced your inappropriate writing with “XXXX”).
God love you and so do I
beautiful answer! and some people don’t know history…in the Civil War the flag was ripped apart to give each soldier a piece of it after battle. come on, people, volunteers who love our flag and love our soldiers work hard far and wide to share the symbol of our great nation…I know because I AM ONE OF THEM. Since 2013 the “Keeper of the Stars” in Bethlehem PA and her helpers have distributed over 100,000 STARS for HEROES. You picky people need a hobby…one that helps people. STOP being so negative.
History is irrelevant until December 22, 1942 when the Flag Code came into existence and passed by Congress. It’s the Flag Code that matters, not the feelings.
The term “heroes” is overdone. And your statement “You picky people” is antagonistic and very unnecessary.