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Flag Etiquette: Playing By the Rules with “Old Glory”

As Arkansans prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, the Stars and Stripes will fly across the state - but for some of those flags, it may be time for a replacement. According to retired Major Keith Dover, Flag Alliance Chairman of the American Legion in Arkansas, if your flag is tattered, torn, faded or frayed, you should consider taking it to a local veterans’ group, such as the American Legion or VFW. He said they often work with Boy Scout troops to properly retire American flags.

“When it’s in such a condition that it’s no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner,” he said. “The Boy Scouts have a ritual for that ceremony and it’s done in a very, very beautiful and symbolic way.”

Under the U.S. Flag Code, flags are retired by burning them. For a flag that may be dirty, washing or dry cleaning it is appropriate. And if it has small tears, it’s also acceptable to make minor repairs.

The flag should never be displayed with the union portion - the blue field with white stars - at the bottom, explained Dover, as that is a signal of distress. It should never touch anything beneath it, whether that’s the ground, or merchandise on a retail display. He said the flag should be flown freely and aloft, although he often sees them displayed incorrectly.

“It’s not intentional or disrespectful on their behalf, it’s just that they don’t know the proper etiquette that the flag deserves,” said Dover. “And I think that it’s something we need to teach the next generation of young people, just what the flag really means.”

He added that it’s fine to be patriotic in your attire, but also check the rules for how to wear flag symbols properly. Even those little American-flag lapel pins are supposed to be worn on the left side of a person’s jacket, near the heart.

More flag etiquette information is on the American Legion website.