Jim Whelan served in the Army for 22 years and fought in the Vietnam War, and when he participates in the American Legion’s U.S. flag disposal ceremonies, it isn’t just to get rid of old flags.
“It’s about respect,” he said. “We don’t want to show any disrespect to the flag of our country.”
Whelan, a member of American Legion Post 192 in Evans, helps to put on flag-disposal ceremonies throughout the year to properly retire flags that are ripped or too faded to fly. The flags are dropped off at the Legion or given to members and are burned at the ceremonies. Any Legion post will take in old flags for disposal, he said, as a part of their mission to promote patriotism and national honor.
“To pay proper respect to the flag, we burn them and bury the ashes,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Mike Buss, the deputy director at the American Legion national headquarters in Indianapolis, said the Legion’s commitment to the flag-disposal ceremony is one way the organization promotes respect for the flag.
“It’s an opportunity to pay reverence to one of the great symbols of our country,” he said.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for when a flag should be destroyed, but Buss said if a flag is ripped or faded, it should be retired. Many of the modern polyester or nylon blend fabrics will not rip easily, but their colors fade, he said.
“That bright, vibrant red should not be a pastel pink,” he said.
American Legion flag-disposal ceremonies range from formal rituals to quiet gatherings, Buss said. Many American Legion posts invite Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops to assist in the ceremony and invite the public as a way to instill a respect for the flag.
“They get an appreciation and a value for what the flag means,” he said.
Although the Flag Code is law, Buss said there are no civil consequences for flying a tattered flag.
“It’s just considered a breach of flag etiquette,” he said.
If a flag is flown past its prime, the owners might have to deal with a member of the American Legion or someone who is similarly well-versed in the Flag Code.
“They’re likely to let you know that what you’re doing is not OK,” Buss said.