Scouting Activities: Flag Ceremonies and Retirements

On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Our Scout Oath goes back to the 1908 publication of “Scouting for Boys”, where “Be Prepared” was defined as “always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.” Originally referred to as the “Scout Promise,” Scouts would stand, raise their right hand in the Scout Sign, and recite,

“On my honour I promise that I will do my best to do my duty to God and the King/Queen/my Country, to help other people at all times and to obey the Scout Law.”

Very little has changed over these 112 years, and Scouts around the globe proudly pledge their loyalty to their country through service and active patriotism. Our meetings start with the Pledge of Allegiance, Scout Oath, and Scout Law. We lay wreaths at the graves of our Veterans. We send popcorn and care packages to our active duty Troops. We wear a flag on our uniform, salute the flag on the moon, and treat all US flags with the same respect and reverence with which we treat the brave men and women who have served our country.

The Pack I served went to great lengths to protect and respect our flag, and ceremonies celebrating the service of our flags are important part of its programming. Here are a few resources to help you incorporate flag ceremonies into your unit traditions.

American Flag Etiquette at Unit Meetings

ScoutingMagazine.org has a great article that outlines flag etiquette in Scouting. There are a few rules every unit will need to follow:

  • while in procession, the American flag will lead the right-most line in the formation (the marching right)
  • the American flag is the first to be posted to its stand, on the left-most side of the audience
  • uniformed Scouts and Scouters will quietly observe the flag, holding their Scout Salute
  • plain clothed attendees will place their hands over their hearts
  • do not let the flag touch anything beneath it (this means younger Scouts with little control over a heavy flag and staff should be assisted by an older Scout or adult leader to ensure the flag doesn’t touch the ground)

American Flag Etiquette at Outdoor Events

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Scouting campsite without an American flag posted in the common area! Where general flag etiquette notes that it’s a universal custom to display your flag from sunrise to sunset on stationary flagstaffs in the open, you can proudly fly our flag twenty-four hours a day at your campsite as long as it is properly illuminated. Learn more about Flag Etiquette at www.usflag.org.

Flag Ceremony Basics

An opening flag ceremony can be as simple or involved as you’d like to make it, and will depend heavily on your participants. Packs should adopt simple ceremonies that can be easily executed by even the youngest Scout (with help, of course), where Troops should use something more age-appropriate.

Regardless of the unit type, all ceremonies should post the flag in the same order (American flag first) and in the correct location (American flag to the audience left).

Simple Flag Ceremony

A simple flag ceremony for younger Scouts looks a little something like this:

Determine who will participate in your Color Guard (the Scouts who carry and post the American and Unit flags) and who will lead the ceremony. The color guard will line up in two equal lines. The left-most line will be led by a Scout carrying the unit flag, whereas the right-most line will be led by a Scout carrying the flag of our nation. To open the ceremony, they will wait for the ceremony leader to initiate and provide ceremony prompts, as follows.

Leader: Color Guard, attention. Will the audience please rise? (The color guard will stand straight, perfect their lines, and prepare to march. The audience will stand.)

Leader: Color Guard, advance. Scout Salute. (This is a prompt for both lines to begin their forward march and for all uniformed Scouts to properly salute the flag. The Color Guard does NOT salute.)

Leader: Color Guard, halt. (The color guard is prompted to end their forward march where the audience seating begins, a distance from both flag stands. The Color Guard still does NOT salute.)

Leader: Please join me in the Pledge of Allegiance. (All participants recite the Pledge of Allegiance save the Color Guard.)

Leader: Two. (Scouts drop their salute. Participants remove their hands from their hearts.)

Leader: Color Guard, post the colors. (The flag bearers post the flags to their stands while the other Scouts in the color guard remain in place. The American flag is posted first, crossing from its right-most position to the left-most stand. The unit flag follows, crossing from its left-most position to the right-most stand. At this time, the Color Guard salutes the American flag.)

Leader: Color Guard, retreat. (The Scouts in the color guard turn and walk to their starting point in two straight lines. Then they join their fellow Scouts in the audience.)

Print or refer to this when practicing and performing your opening ceremony.

To close your ceremony:

Leader: Color Guard, attention. Will the audience please rise? (The color guard will stand straight, perfect their lines, and prepare to march. The audience will stand.)

Leader: Color Guard, advance. Scout Salute. (This is a prompt for both lines to begin their forward march and for all uniformed Scouts to properly salute the flag. The Color Guard does NOT salute.)

Leader: Color Guard, halt. (The color guard is prompted to end their forward march where the audience seating begins, a distance from both flag stands. The Color Guard still does NOT salute.)

Leader: Color Guard, retire the colors. (The flag bearers march to the flags and lift from the bases. The American flag is crossed from its position to the right-most line, followed by the unit flag which is crossed from its position to the left-most line. Both lines retreat to their starting point.)

Leader: Two. (Scouts drop their salute.)

Print or refer to this when practicing and performing your closing ceremony.

PRO TIP: Look around your meeting space. Are there low ceilings, ducts, or doorways that your flag-bearers will need to negotiate? Prepare them for those areas ahead of your ceremony.

Complex Flag Ceremony

Older Scouts are more than able to conduct a complex flag ceremony. These include the simple ceremony prompts in addition to a few others. For a more complex opening to your ceremony:

Leader: Color Guard, attention. Audience, please rise.

Leader: Scout Salute. Those not in uniform, please place your right hand over your heart.

Leader: Color Guard, forward march.

Leader: Color Guard, halt.

Leader: Color Guard, cross the colors.

Leader: Please recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Leader: Two.

Leader: Scout Sign. Please join us in reciting the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

Leader: Two.

Leader: Color Guard, post the flag of the United States of America.

Leader: Color Guard, post the flag of Troop ___.

Leader: Color Guard, honor your colors.

Leader: Color Guard, retreat.

Leader: Audience, please be seated.

To close your ceremony:

Leader: Color Guard, attention. Audience, please rise.

Leader: Scout Salute.

Leader: Color Guard, forward march.

Leader: Color Guard, halt.

Leader: Color Guard, retire your colors.

Leader: Two.

Leader: Audience, please be seated.

Honoring the Flag

In Scouting, our deliberate duty to country provides us with countless opportunities to honor our flag. From observing national patriotic holidays such as Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day to participating in special Wreaths Across America events over the holidays, Scouters should be prepared to honor our flag throughout the year. Here are a few great ceremonies for special holidays and events.

Memorial Day Flag Ceremony and Etiquette

Did you know that there is a specific way to fly our flag on Memorial Day? As your Scouts raise and lower the flag on this special holiday, remember that it must first be flown at half-staff from sunrise to noon, then raised briskly to full-staff until sunset. This is how our country honors our battle heroes. Learn more about Memorial Day flag etiquette on the US Department of Veterans Affairs website.

At 3:00pm local time, Scouts should salute the American flag in uniform and say, out loud, the name of a fallen hero. At 3:01pm local time, all Scouts who play the bugle or horn are invited to play “Taps”. Learn more about how you can salute our fallen heroes on Memorial Day at Scouting.org.

Memorial Day is observed the last Monday of May.

Flag Day and Independence Day Ceremonies and Etiquette

Commemorating the adoption of the flag in June of 1777, Flag Day is a wonderful opportunity to perform your duty to country. Though it’s not an official federal holiday, Flag Day is still celebrated around the country, traditionally with official flag retirement ceremonies.

Independence Day is, of course, a federal holiday commemorating the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on July 4th, 1776. It’s true that this day is known for it’s fireworks, parades, barbecues, and family gatherings, but good Scouts know that it’s another opportunity to honor the flag. Refer back to Flag Etiquette at www.usflag.org for specific details, especially those concerning parading the flag in procession. Much like your color guard ceremony, the flag will remain in the right-most position as Scouts march in procession.

Per US Flag Code Section 176, burning the flag is the preferred method of retirement. I like to refer back to a 2014 article on ScoutingMagazine.org that best explains the four options for retiring American flags, which takes into consideration environmentally-responsible retirement options. A printable flag retirement ceremony used by my Pack for many years is linked in the “Flag Retirement” section below.

BoyScoutTrail.com has a page dedicated to flag readings and poetry that are perfect for Flag Day and Independence Day ceremonies.

Flag Day is observed on June 14th. Independence Day is observed on July 4th.

Veterans Day Flag Ceremony and Etiquette

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of WWI on June 4th, 1926, and simultaneously marked November 11th as the official “cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals,” noting that it was also the beginning of peaceful relations between the US and other nations. As such, the date was made a legal holiday to be observed annually in honor of the men and women who bravely serve the United States of America in the branches of our fine armed services. The proclamation also noted that the flag would be displayed on all Government buildings and that all Americans would be invited to observe friendly ceremonies in observance.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs notes many suggested activities and ceremonies to pay tribute to the men and women who have served. Suggested introductory remarks perfectly set the tone:

When Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner” almost 200 years
ago, he called America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Those words are as true today as they were then.


Throughout this Nation’s history, America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines
and coastguardsmen have bravely answered the call to defend our freedom,
to aid our friends and allies, and to turn back aggressors.


We can never fully repay our debt of gratitude to the more than 650,000
American servicemembers who died in battle or the 1.4 million who were
wounded. We can, however, recognize and thank the 25 million veterans still
living today.


These words are inscribed on the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C.:
“Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend
a country they never knew and a people they never met.”


Those words apply equally to many of our World War I, World War II, Vietnam
War and Gulf War veterans as well. They apply to today’s active duty
servicemembers — tomorrow’s veterans — who are helping to maintain

peace throughout the world.

Today, it is our privilege to say “thank you” to all of America’s veterans, to let
them know that we appreciate them for their service and honor them for their
sacrifices.

The price of freedom is high. We cannot afford to forget those willing to pay it.
Today, we celebrate America’s veterans for keeping this Nation “the land of
the free and the home of the brave.”

Our unit has observed Veterans Day at our November meetings by discussing the importance of the holiday and rising to salute the Veterans in attendance.

Veterans Day is observed annually on November 11th and honors military veterans and marks the anniversary of the end of World War I.  November 11, 2020 marked the 102nd anniversary of the end of WWI.

Today there are nearly 22 million veterans of the United States Armed Forces living among us and chances are good that at least one of these American heroes are a family member or close friend of ours, perhaps in attendance here today.

In fact, would our Veteran’s please stand?  Scouts, please stand and turn to our Veterans.  SCOUT SALUTE. <hold salute>  Would the families of our Veteran’s please stand? <hold salute>  TWO.  Ladies and gentlemen, let’s please convey our thanks with a round of applause.

Veterans Day is observed on November 11th.

Wreaths Across America Ceremonies

Wreaths Across America is a national effort to “Remember, Honor and Teach” by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and locations across the country and abroad. This special service project honors our veterans in moving ceremony, and Scouts are often seen laying wreaths at local cemeteries in December.

My unit works with a local county park to provide wreaths for a Veterans Memorial that celebrates the lives and sacrifices of our local service men and women. Each year we gather around the flag and perform a special ceremony that, I admit, is difficult to get through and focuses heavily on The Flag Remembers Christmas. I first read this poem on the Scouter Mom blog and knew it would be central to our ceremony from that moment on.

Our Wreath Laying at Veterans Memorial Ceremony (PDF) can be downloaded, printed, and used in your special ceremony this holiday season.

Flag Retirement

In an effort not to reinvent the wheel (I do only have one hour for Scout stuff, afterall), I refer everyone to ScoutingMagazine.com‘s article regarding the retirement of worn American flags. They lay out four options for the proper retirement of flags, most notably by burning.

As noted in the link above, units who are uncomfortable retiring flags should reach out to their local VFW post or Elks Lodge to ensure flags are retired respectfully. I suggest attending the retirement ceremony and becoming more comfortable with performing them as a unit in the future.

Scouts might ask why it’s appropriate to burn a flag in retirement when it’s not appropriate to burn it in protest. I’ve had countless new Scouts or family ask why it isn’t considered desecration when Scouting units or VFW posts burn a flag. In short, retiring a flag in this way is similar to the respectful cremation of the deceased. Our flag is worthy of veneration and is a reverent tribute to its service to our country.

What constitutes an unfit flag? According to US Flag Code, Title 4, Section 8k, “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” Per flagsusa.com, flags are ready for retirement when it is unable to be cleaned or repaired, or is too tattered to respectfully fly. Many Scouting units will collect unfit flags in the community and perform a retirement ceremony as soon as possible.

Packs and Troops often perform these ceremonies as part of a campfire program, in which flags are ceremoniously burned over their campfire. A reading of “I Am Old Glory” is appropriate.

“I AM OLD GLORY” I am old glory; for more the 9 score years I have been the banner of hope and freedom for generation after generation of Americans. Born amid the first flames of America’s fight for freedom, I am the symbol of a country that has grown from a little group of 13 colonies to a united nation of 50 sovereign states. Planted firmly on the high pinnacle of American Faith, my gently fluttering folds have proved an inspiration to untold millions. Men have followed me into battle with unwavering courage. They have looked upon me as a symbol of national unity. They have prayed that they and their fellow citizens might continue to enjoy the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, which have been granted to every American as the heritage of free men. So long as men love liberty more than life itself, so long as they treasure the priceless privileges bought with the blood of our forefathers; so long as the principles of truth, justice and charity for all remain deeply rooted in human hearts, I shall continue to be the enduring banner of the United States of America.

Our Flag Retirement Ceremony (PDF) can be downloaded, printed, and used in your special ceremony this holiday season.

Don’t forget to retrieve the flag grommets after your fire has cooled. We use these to honor our Veterans by presenting them in a meaningful way on holidays like Veterans Day. They can also be left on the graves of or at parks and monuments memorializing our fallen heroes. They can also be presented to the Scouts who performed the flag retirement ceremony to save as a memento of their duty to country. Some Scouts include grommets on neckerchief slides, bracelets or ornaments. A quick search for “flag grommet crafts” on Pinterest brings up several great ideas!

Properly Folding the American Flag

It’s important that all flags are folded appropriately before they are retired. Here’s a great video by Scouts BSA explaining how Scouts should fold and hold the flag.

Flags and Accessories

I don’t suggest products unless I’ve purchased them myself, and I’m excited to give a shout out to the fine folks at Gettysburg Flag Works. Two years ago, we replaced our parade flag poles and spindles/toppers with their products. We purchased the Hardwood Parade and Indoor Flagpoles for both our American and Unit flags. You can also purchase your floor stands and toppers, like this plastic slip-fit Eagle for your American flag. The Scout Shop also sells toppers, like these Universal Emblem and Eagle Scout Emblem toppers. Just double-check the pole diameters against the topper sizes to make sure they fit.

Regular sand-filled flag bases aren’t going to cut it at a campsite. Consider ground stakes that are meant for flag poles to keep the flag upright at all times. You can also pickup flag pole brackets that can be installed directly onto your Scout trailer. Don’t forget to pick-up a solar-powered light to ensure your flag is properly illuminated all night long.

What Are Your Unit Traditions?

Scouting traditions vary from unit to unit, but a duty to country is one part of the program and lifestyle that transcends geographical borders. How does your unit celebrate our flag? Do you have special retirement ceremonies that you’d like to share?

Did I miss something? Get something wrong? Teach you something new? Let me know in the comments.

As always, don’t forget to like, subscribe, and share Look Wider Still!

Yours in Scouting,
Rebekah

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Published by Look Wider Still

Rebekah is the mother of two wonderful sons, Michael and Nathan. She and her husband, Mike, married in 2002 and have built their family on a foundation of adventure. Between geocaching, camping, hiking, cooking, and loving their Irish Terrier, Bentley, the family has a long and happy career in Scouting. With Eagles on all sides, the boys are both experienced Scouters, Mike has extensive den leadership and Pack Committee experience under his belt, and Rebekah has served as den leader and Cubmaster for Pack 521 out of Mechanicsville, Virginia.

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