Why do we chose to burn the American flag when it comes time to retire it?
The reason dates back before the birth of Christ. According to Brassey’s Encyclopedia of Military History and Biography, during a battle, the greatest dishonor a Roman legion could suffer was the loss of its flag.
In Napoleon’s day, European solders would risk their lives to save the flag. Regiments were known to stand their ground and die, if necessary, to give their flag bearer time to escape. Universally, if a military post were about to be captured, the men in the unit would burn the flag, lest it should fall into enemy hands.
To military personnel, the possible capture of the flag symbolized so much more than the loss of a piece of cloth. To them, the flag was a symbol of freedom, liberty, truth and salvation. It was a symbol that needed to be protected and revered. To them, there was no greater defeat than the loss of the flag. That is why they chose to burn it rather than let it fall into enemy hands.
The American flag served in times of war – just as we did. It returned to us, perhaps unharmed, perhaps permanently marked with scars of battle – just as we did. The flag is a symbol of our nation, an enduring reflection of our own lives.
The first formal decision to burn the American flag as a means of retiring it came on June 14th, 1923 in Washington D. C.
This was a time when representatives of 68 organizations met for a conference to draft an authentic code of flag etiquette.
This code was accepted and later passed into law by Congress. A portion of the code states;
"The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."
The difference in the burning today of this American flag and those destroyed in demonstrations is the fact that :
- we are not burning this flag as a means of protest —
- we are not burning this flag to draw attention to ourselves, or to upset and anger others.
- We are not burning this flag out of hatred and disrespect for the country it represents.
- This flag is burned with the utmost respect for the United States of America.
- This flag is burned to honor all of those who fought beneath its stars and stripes.
- This flag is burned in remembrance of those who died defending our country.
- The burning of this flag is the final step in the retirement of this great symbol of our great country.
- This ceremony is a solemn occasion.
The American flag is a historic, spirited, and patriotic symbol that has flown above this great country for 233 years.
The flag first flew over the 13 states along the Atlantic seaboard, with a population of some 3 million people. Today it flies over 50 states, extending across the continent, and over great islands of the two oceans; and over 250 million citizens owe it allegiance.
It has attained this proud position by love and sacrifice. Citizens have advanced it, and heros have died for it. It is the sign made visible of the strong spirit that has brought liberty and prosperity to the people of American. It is the flag of all of us alike. Let us accord it proper honor and loyalty.