Flag Etiquette

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Two events have added importance to the issue of discarding old flags. One is the on-going dispute over flag burning as a form of protest. The other, in the wake of the September 11th attacks, is the growing number of people displaying flags outside their homes, but American flags, like everything else, don't last forever.

"I live in an area where it's pretty windy and it takes a pretty good beating in the winds," says John Amrine, commander of American Legion Post 64, "but typically, any time the flag shows any wear or fading, it's time to change the flag and properly dispose of the old one."

The American Legion, in fact, distributes a code book outlining the procedure for disposing of worn-out flags. “When a flag has served its useful purpose," it says, "it should be destroyed, preferably by burning. For individual citizens, this should be done discreetly, so the act of destruction is not perceived as a protest or desecration."

The American Legion posts in Parkersburg in Marietta collects hundreds of used flags a year, for a formal disposal which usually lasts several hours.

"There's a 20 to 30 minute formal ceremony that takes place prior to starting the burning of the flags," Amrine explains. "We usually use three or four barrels to burn the flags, so we can control the ashes and dispose of them properly. Some of them are nylon or plastic, so we have to use a stimulant to get the fire started."

Post 15 in Parkersburg plans a formal flag disposal ceremony on flag day, June 14th. Marietta has two upcoming ceremonies, one on Memorial Day and the other on Veterans Day.