The Flag Code

OSWEGO, NY – The Flag Code suggests that, “when a flag has served its useful purpose, 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.

Flag Over City HallMany American Legion Posts conduct Disposal of Unserviceable Flag Ceremonies on June 14, Flag Day.

This ceremony creates a particularly dignified and solemn occasion for the retirement of unserviceable flags.


As performed by the American Legion

The Post assembles in meeting, out-of-doors, at night.

Members are aligned in two parallel rows about twenty feet apart, facing each other.

Officers at their stations.

A small fire is burning opposite the Commander and beyond the rows of members.

Sergeant-at-Arms: “Comrade Commander, we wish to present a number of unserviceable Flags of our County for inspection and disposal.”

Commander: “Comrade Sergeant-at-Arms advance with your detail and present the Flags for disposal and inspection.”

Sergeant-at-Arms calls his detail to attention.

They form at the Post of the Sergeant-at-Arms, take the Flags which are to be inspected, march abreast down center until opposite the Second Vice-Commander, turn right and halt two paces in front of the  Second Vice-Commander.

The Sergeant-at-Arms steps one pace forward and salutes.

Sergeant-at-Arms: “Comrade Vice-Commander, we present these unserviceable Flags for your inspection.”

Second Vice-Commander: “Is the present condition of these Flags the result of their usual service as the Emblem of our Country?”

Sergeant-at-Arms: “These Flags have become faded and worn over the graves of our departed comrades and the soldier and sailor dead of all nation’s wars.”

Second Vice-Commander: “Present these Flags to the First Vice-Commander for his inspection.”

(The Sergeant-at-Arms salutes, about faces, commands the detail), “About Face,” (crosses behind the detail and takes his post at its left, commands) “Forward March.”

(The detail marches to within two paces of the First Vice-Commander, halts and proceeds as before.)

Sergeant-at-Arms: “Comrade Vice-Commander, we present these Flags which have been inspected by the Second Vice-Commander, for your further inspection.”

First Vice-Commander: “Have any of these Flags served any other purpose?”

Sergeant-at-Arms: “Some of these Flags have been displayed in various public places.”

First Vice-Commander: “Present them to the Commander for final inspection and fitting disposal.”

(The Sergeant-at-Arms salutes, about faces, commands the detail), “About Face,” (crosses behind the detail and takes position on its left commands), “Forward March.”

(The detail marches to center, turns left, halts within two paces of the Commander, Sergeant-at-Arms steps one pace forward and salutes.)

Sergeant-at-Arms: “Comrade Commander, we have the honor to present for final inspection and proper disposal these Flags of our Country.”

Commander: “Have these Flags been inspected by the First and Second Vice-Commanders?”

Sergeant-at-Arms: “They have.”

Commander: “Comrade Second Vice-Commander, what does your inspection show and what do you recommend?”

Second Vice-Commander: “Comrade Commander, since these Flags have become unserviceable in a worthy cause, I recommend that they be honorably retired from further service.”

Commander: “Comrade First Vice-Commander, what does your inspection show and what do you recommend?”

First Vice-Commander: “Comrade Commander, since these Flags have become faded and worn in a tribute of service and love, I also recommend that they be fittingly destroyed.”

Commander: “Comrades, we have presented here these Flags of our Country which have been inspected and condemned as unserviceable. They have reached their present state in a proper service of tribute, memory and love.

“A Flag may be a flimsy bit of printed gauze, or a beautiful banner of finest silk. Its intrinsic value may be trifling or great; but its real value is beyond price, for it is a precious symbol of all that we and our comrades have worked for and lived for, and died for-a free Nation of free men, true to the faith of the past, devoted to the ideals and practice of Justice, Freedom and Democracy.

“Let these faded Flags of our Country be retired and destroyed with respectful and honorable rites and their places be taken by bright new Flags of the same size and kind, and let no grave of our soldier or sailor dead by unhonored and unmarked. Sergeant-at-Arms, assemble the Color Guard, escort the detail bearing the Flags and destroy these Flags by burning. The members shall stand at attention.”

(Color Guard forms. The detail about faces. Preceded by the Color Guard, the detail marches down center to the fire.

National Colors cross over and take position on the right of the fire, facing the Commander.

Post Standard takes position on left of fire.

The detail lines up behind the fire, which is burning low.)

Commander: “The Chaplain will offer prayer.”

Chaplain: “Almighty God, Captain of all hosts and Commander over all, bless and consecrate this present hour.

“We thank Thee for our Country and its Flag, and for the liberty for which it stands.

“To clean and purging flame we commit these Flags, worn-out in worthy service. As they yield their substance to the fire, may Thy Holy Light spread over us and bring to our hearts renewed devotion to God and Country. Amen.”

Commander: “Hand salute.”

(Color Guards present arms.

Post Standard is dipped.

All officers and members except those on the Flag detail salute.

Members of the Flag detail dip the condemned Flags in kerosene and place them on a rack over the fire).

(Bugler sounds “To the Colors.”)

Commander: (at conclusion of “To the Colors”) “Two.”

(The Color Guard shall resume its station and detail is dismissed.)

(Color Guard advances down center and places Colors.

Members of the detail resume their places among the members.)

Flag Etiquette


The Flag Code, which formalizes and unifies the traditional ways in which we give respect to the flag, also contains specific instructions on how the flag is not to be used.

They are: The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing.

It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.

The flag should not be used as a drapery, or for covering a speaker’s desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general.

Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes.

The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.

The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose.

It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use.

Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.

The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, fireman, policeman and members of patriotic organizations.

The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind.

The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.

When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms.

To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.

The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.

When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.

Note: Most American Legion Posts regularly conduct a dignified flag burning ceremony, often on Flag Day, June 14.

Contact your local American Legion Hall and inquire about the availability of this service.

Displaying the Flag Outdoors

When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting from a window, balcony, or a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff.

When it is displayed from the same flagpole with another flag – of a state, community, society or Scout unit – the flag of the United States must always be at the top except that the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for Navy personnel when conducted by a Naval chaplain on a ship at sea.

When the flag is displayed over a street, it should be hung vertically, with the union to the north or east. If the flag is suspended over a sidewalk, the flag’s union should be farthest from the building.

When flown with flags of states, communities, or societies on separate flag poles which are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor – to its own right. ..The other flags may be smaller but none may be larger. ..No other flag ever should be placed above it.

The flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered.

When flown with the national banner of other countries, each flag must be displayed from a separate pole of the same height. Each flag should be the same size. They should be raised and lowered simultaneously.

The flag of one nation may not be displayed above that of another nation.

Raising and Lowering the Flag

The flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously.

Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset.

It should be illuminated if displayed at night.

The flag of the United States of America is saluted as it is hoisted and lowered.

The salute is held until the flag is unsnapped from the halyard or through the last note of music, whichever is the longest.

Displaying the Flag Indoors

When on display, the flag is accorded the place of honor, always positioned to its own right. Place it to the right of the speaker or staging area or sanctuary.

Other flags should be to the left.

The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states, localities, or societies are grouped for display.

When one flag is used with the flag of the United States of America and the staffs are crossed, the flag of the United States is placed on its own right with its staff in front of the other flag.

When displaying the flag against a wall, vertically or horizontally, the flag’s union (stars) should be at the top, to the flag’s own right, and to the observer’s left.

Parading and Saluting the Flag

When carried in a procession, the flag should be to the right of the marchers.

When other flags are carried, the flag of the United States may be centered in front of the others or carried to their right.

When the flag passes in a procession, or when it is hoisted or lowered, all should face the flag and salute.

The Salute

To salute, all persons come to attention.

Those in uniform give the appropriate formal salute.

Citizens not in uniform salute by placing their right hand over the heart and men with head cover should remove it and hold it to left shoulder, hand over the heart.

Members of organizations in formation salute upon command of the person in charge.

The Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem

The Pledge of Allegiance should be rendered by standing at attention, facing the flag, and saluting.

When the national anthem is played or sung, citizens should stand at attention and salute at the first note and hold the salute through the last note.

The salute is directed to the flag, if displayed, otherwise to the music.

The Flag in Mourning

To place the flag at half staff, hoist it to the peak for an instant and lower it to a position half way between the top and bottom of the staff.

The flag is to be raised again to the peak for a moment before it is lowered.

On Memorial Day the flag is displayed at half staff until noon and at full staff from noon to sunset.

The flag is to be flown at half staff in mourning for designated, principal government leaders and upon presidential or gubernatorial order.

When used to cover a casket, the flag should be placed with the union at the head and over the left shoulder.

It should not be lowered into the grave.