Life Scout Edward Phillips and Mayor Mary Marvin in front of new US Flag disposal box at village hall
By Margaret Mager, Troop 5 Community Service Liaison
March 23, 2022: Many Americans proudly fly the U.S. flag at their homes and places of work, but what do you do with it when it's old and ratty and you're ready for a new one? Don't just throw it in the trash like any other old item —that's considered disrespectful.
Just as there is etiquette for displaying Old Glory, there is also etiquette for disposing of flags in a dignified manner.
A Country’s Flag Is A Living Thing
Many state and county government offices and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts have flag disposal boxes outside of their buildings. Police stations also often collect them. Once the disposal boxes are full, various organizations such as American Legions, VFWs and the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts collect the flags and hold flag retirement ceremonies.
Troop 5 Bronxville Eagle Scout Candidate Edward Phillips noticed that there were no flag disposal boxes in Bronxville which prompted him to approach Mayor Mary Marvin with the idea of installing one at Village Hall as part of his Eagle Scout Service Project. The Project also required the ongoing commitment of Troop 5 to maintain the disposal box and ensure proper retirement of the flags. Once all necessary approvals were obtained, Edward designed and built the box. A brass plaque was attached to the furniture quality box which was permanently installed in the lobby of Village Hall on March 17, 2022.
Rules on how to properly fly the flag were established in June 1923, when the National Flag Conference met in Washington. Its members created the Flag Code, which states that "the flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing."
The American Legion passed a resolution about flag retirement ceremonies in 1937, and they've been an important ritual ever since. According to the resolution, "The approved method of disposing of unserviceable flags has long been that they be destroyed by burning."
The U.S. flag is considered such a sacred symbol that burning it in an undignified manner constitutes desecration. That's why the ceremonies are held in a specific manner.
Proper US Flag Disposal
Every year on June 14, Americans celebrate Flag Day. Not surprisingly, it's considered the most appropriate day to hold flag disposal ceremonies, which are often held at night.
During an American Legion ceremony, participants stand aligned in two parallel rows about 20 feet apart, facing each other. A small fire burns beyond the rows of members, opposite the Legion commander.
The flags that are no longer serviceable are presented to Legion commanders, who inspect them to make sure they should, in fact, be discarded. When it's agreed upon that they've reached their current worn state due to proper service of tribute, memory and love, a color guard presents the colors, and a chaplain offers prayers.
As the crowd salutes, the flag detail dips the retired flags into kerosene and puts them on a rack over the fire. A bugler sounds "To the Colors."
Source: How to Properly Dispose of Worn-Out U.S. Flags; U.S. Department of Defense; By Katie Lange, 6/11/20
Photos by Peter Phillips, Troop 5 Bronxville
The Bronxville Green Committee is a volunteer organization under Village government. We work with the Trustees and Village staff on programs that promote clean energy initiatives and sustainable ways of living. Our programs include The Bronxville Giving Garden, a community garden whose produce is donated to local groups; Take Back Day, when we collect items to be recycled; and Pollinator Pathways, which encourages adding native plants to our gardens. We believe everyone can make a difference by adopting simple, sustainable practices in daily life so we can work together to protect what we love -- our families, our homes and our town.