Flag Retirement

United States Marine Master Sgt Percy Webb penned the following tribute to Old Glory about 1933. This tribute has been updated to include the States that have been added since his original writing.

I Am Old Glory: for more than nine score years I have been the banner of hope and freedom for generation after generation of Americans. Born amid the first flames of America’s fight for freedom, I am the symbol of a country that has grown from a little group of thirteen colonies to a united nation of fifty sovereign states. Planted firmly on the high pinnacle of American Faith my gently fluttering folds have proved an inspiration to untold millions. Men have followed me into battle with unwavering courage. They have looked upon me as a symbol of national unity. They have prayed that they and their fellow citizens might continue to enjoy the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, which have been granted to every American as the heritage of free men. So long as men love liberty more than life itself; so long as they treasure the priceless privileges bought with blood of our forefathers; so long as the principles of truth, justice and charity for all remain deeply rooted in human hearts, I shall continue to be the enduring banner of the United States of America.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History website states that to contemporary Americans, the Armistead family’s treatment of the Star-Spangled Banner—marking up the stars and stripes with signatures, cutting off pieces to give away as souvenirs—might seem strange or inappropriate, even though it was customary at the time. Today an extensive set of rules, known as the U.S. Flag Code, defines the proper way to treat the American flag. But in fact, these rules and customs surrounding the flag date back only to the late 19th century.

Led by Civil War veterans who wanted to uphold the sacred character of the national emblem they had fought to defend, the first efforts to restrict uses of the flag were targeted at commercial and political advertisements. While the federal government did not pass any flag desecration legislation until the 1960s, by the early 1900s most states had adopted such laws, and in 1907 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Nebraska statute in a case against a manufacturer of “Stars and Stripes” beer.

The flag-protection movement regained national momentum during World War I, and on June 14, 1923, the first National Flag Conference was held in Washington, D.C., to establish a set of rules for civilian flag use. The U.S. Flag Code, first published in 1923 and adopted by Congress in 1942, is based on the belief that the American flag “represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.” It proscribes any use of the flag that could be construed as disrespectful, including using it for advertising and to decorate clothing and other goods. While the U.S. Supreme Court struck down flag-protection laws as violations of free speech in 1989, the Flag Code is still maintained as a code of etiquette, enforced not by law but by tradition.

The United States Flag Code, Title 4, Section 8k states “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

The American Legion Ceremony for Disposal of Unserviceable Flags is outlined in Resolution No. 440, passed by the 19th National Convention of The American Legion in New York, Sept. 20-23, 1937. The ceremony has been an integral part of American Legion ritual since that date.

Post 46 follows the guidelines set forth in this resolution and we are of the opinion that The American Legion’s Ceremony for Disposal of Unserviceable Flags is a dignified tribute to the U.S. flag and to its symbolism.

We, the American Legion, Veterans from all walks of life, citizen and non-citizen, whose members have served in all conflicts from WWII to present, will honor the memory of those who served and sacrificed (veteran and their family members), and treat the symbol of our Nation with the respect deserved.

American Legion Post 46 conducts a Flag Retirement Ceremony at least once a year at the Pine Knoll Shores Fire and EMS Station with the assistance of the staff.

After the first flag is retired rendering honors and Taps, the public is invited to present an unserviceable flag for retirement in honor of those who have served or are still serving under this great symbol of freedom.

For flag retirement ceremony dates please visit our Post Calendar/Events page.