Staff file photo / A sandwich is served on an American flag plate on July 3, 2019.

What do you do with a faded American flag?

When leaders of a local women's club were looking for a new service project this year, the idea of retiring worn-out American flags came up.

Who hasn't wondered how to respectfully dispose of a faded copy of Old Glory?

With that in mind, the GFWC Valamont Women's Club is partnering with local library branches to collect old American flags for proper disposal. The push is tied to Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

"As we get ready to honor vets, let's remember the proper way to dispose of a flag," said Susan B. Martin, a longtime member and past president of the Valamont Women's Club.

Martin says special flag retirement boxes will be placed next month at library branches at Northgate (278 Northgate Mall Drive), Eastgate (5705 Marlin Road) and South Chattanooga (925 W. 39th St.).

"We will be picking them up regularly and are partnering with the Boy Scouts and a vet group who will perform traditional flag burning ceremonies," says Linda Hershey, co-president of the women's club.

The GFWC Valamont Woman's Club is a 65-year-old service organization with 23 members. Among the club's other service projects are a shoe collection drive, placing wreaths on graves in the Chattanooga National Cemetery and partnerships with the Salvation Army.

It may seem counterintuitive, given all the clashing rhetoric about flag burning as a form of political speech, but the preferred way to retire a worn-out flag is a respectful ceremony that involves disposal by fire.

Flag etiquette is actually a matter of federal law. In the 1940s, the U.S. Congress passed the National Flag Code, a set of rules on the "care and display" of the American flag.

The rules had been set down years earlier by the National Flag Conference, a group representing the armed forces and more than 60 other national organizations, according to a book called "The Care and Display of the American Flag" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang).

On the matter of retiring flags, U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, section 8(K) states: The flag, when it is such a condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.


Here are some things you should never, ever do with an American flag, according to the National Flag Code:

— "The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally." (Someone needs to get word to sports event planners, as the tradition of displaying a giant American flag with scores of flag-bearers around the edges seems in question.)

— "The flag should not be impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything else that is designed for temporary use and discard." (So, all those flag-decorated Independence Day plates and napkins in your cupboard are technically in violation of the Flag Code.)

— "The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery." (Uh-oh, check your closet. The "Care and Display of the American Flag" book points out that flag-printed underwear is especially loathsome.)

— "The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever." (This rule is pretty straightforward. Print and broadcast ads that feature American flags are no-no's, as are car dealerships decorated with dozens of flags for patriotic holidays.)

— "The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise." (While this is a matter of respect — the flag is supposed to fly free, not drag — a flag that accidentally touches the ground does not have to be destroyed unless it is "no longer a fitting emblem for display," experts say.)

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Mark Kennedy

Contact Mark Kennedy at 423-757-6645 or