November 11, 2023
The United States Flag Code is a federal law, but compliance depends on goodwill.
Within our country’s general population, inconsistency is common. Many people seem to take great offense when someone refuses to honor the code’s rules for standing in the presence of the flag during the playing of the national anthem, but fewer may be familiar with the etiquette required for proper retirement of flags no longer fit for service.
Fewer still may be aware of another environmental, economic and modern way of honoring Old Glory, a matter unanticipated when the flag code was written. By buying a long-lasting flag instead of a cheap, flimsy, plastic one, people who care about honoring the flag can make it less likely theirs will be improperly disposed of. American flags are not disposable with trash, so buying a high-quality flag imposes less of a burden on the private businesses and service organization members who manage the deluge of flags requiring dignified retirement.
Following holidays such as Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Flag Day, cemeteries and partnering service organizations are great exemplars of adherence to rules and customs on this matter. Generally, cemetery staff collect, clean and reuse flags placed on graves. Flags are available in offices for mourners to collect and place back on graves on their next visit.
Laura Munoz, service department manager at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Simi Valley, showed her attention to detail.
“We find warm water and Dawn dishwashing liquid work amazingly well on the wooden sticks of flags people place on the graves of our veterans, and that is the part of the flag that gets dirtiest,” she said. “People use Dawn to clean shorebirds after oil spills, so we know it is gentle enough to use for our landscape and our flags.”
Munoz collects and transports damaged or badly faded flags to a service organization for proper retirement.
Steven Mora, managing partner of Conejo Mountain Funeral Home, Memorial Park & Crematory in Camarillo, notes the hard work his staff must do to collect the dozens of small plastic flags that blow off graves and scatter in the wind: “We get every one of them off the ground before mowing. We wouldn’t want to mow the flag.”
In contrast, flags draping coffins at the funerals of veterans are more easily reused. In cases where families do not want to take home the flag and the veteran is not buried with the flag trifolded into a plastic case in the casket, Mora’s staff saves flags for display on an avenue of flags on the streets of the cemetery.
Jeanne Clark, general manager of Ivy Lawn Memorial Park & Funeral Home in Ventura, also features avenues of flags for events such as Veterans Day and reports concerns with cheap flags made for limited use. “Wind really beats those up. They don’t last,” she said
Ivy Lawn saves retired flags and provides a dignified disposal on a day designated for use of the cemetery’s crematory. No cremations of bodies occur on that day and extensive pollution-control equipment mitigates emissions from burning plastic flags.
A drop box for retired flags is available in front of the Ventura County Government Center Hall of Administration, serviced by Veterans of Foreign Wars volunteers. Other service organizations providing flag service include some chapters of the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County, Elks Lodge and Boy Scouts.
Of course, these service organizations are busy, and the more flags they must manage, the less resources they have for other good deeds. When buying a flag, consider durability. To obtain a flag for placement on a grave, check with the cemetery office for a reused one.
David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or email@example.com.