Not everyone knows how to respectfully retire an old, tattered American flag. Scouts do, though. However, not everyone knows a Scoutmaster so they can donate their flags to be retired.
To help people in his community, Life Scout Chip Gaddis of Troop 511 in Medina, Ohio, decided to build a flag retirement box. Residents could drop off their flags in the box, and Scouts could later pick them up and retire them. It’s not a new idea for an Eagle Scout project, as seen here on the Boys’ Life Eagle Project Showcase. Chip, however, went one step further.
Instead of only installing a box, he decided to share his blueprints for how to build it along with instructions for a flag retirement ceremony. He also created some pre-made kits to deliver to local units. This way, more troops could emulate his efforts, helping their communities as well. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to record his presentation and share it virtually for district roundtables.
He recently finished his project after presenting his box to his township and recruiting 13 other troops — both boys and girls — across the Great Trail Council to do the same in their communities.
“We are one of the few organizations that are capable of retiring a flag with the dignity that it deserves,” Chip says.
Build one for your community
Chip penned two designs, using a single 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of plywood. One design doesn’t require diagonal cuts or a power saw, so youth can do all the work. The other does, so adults would need to help. The wood should be cut into six pieces, four at 3-feet-by-1.5-feet and two at 2-feet-by-2-feet. To make it easy, Chip suggests getting the plywood cut at the store. The lumber should be treated.
Then, Scouts can break out the glue and power drills to assemble the boxes. The box should stand at 3 feet tall with the 2-foot pieces serving as the base and top. Add hinges for the top piece, so you can open and close it.
After Scouts are done with their boxes, they’re welcome to share them with Chip on his Facebook page. Chip decorated his with patriotic artwork and a red-white-and-blue color scheme.
Honor the flag
Chip’s presentation featured a couple sample ceremony scripts. Here is one he borrowed from Charles Good, an assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 350 in Raleigh, N.C.:
Adult leader or senior patrol leader: The U.S. flag is more than just some brightly colored cloth. It is a symbol of our nation.
Scout #1: Seven red stripes and six white strips; together, they represent the original 13 colonies that gained us liberty.
Scout #2: The red stripes remind us of the lifeblood of brave men and women who were ready to die for this, their country.
Scout #3: The white stripes remind us of purity and cleanliness of purpose, thought, word and deed.
Scout #4: The blue is for truth and justice, like the eternal blue of the star-filled heavens.
Scout #5: The stars represent the 50 sovereign states of our union.
Adult leader or senior patrol leader: The U.S. flag should be treated with respect when it’s flying, and it should be treated with respect when it’s being retired.
Scout #6: The American Creed states, “It is my duty to my country to love it, to respect its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag and to defend it against all enemies.”
Scout #7: Therefore, we retire flags with dignity and respect when they become worn, torn, faded or badly soiled.
Adult Leader or senior patrol leader: This flag is ready to be retired. Its history is as follows:
First Raised (when):
Memorable event or fact:
Scout #8: A flag ceases to be a flag when it is cut into pieces. We cut the flag into four pieces: three red and white striped banners and the blue star field. We leave the blue field intact because no one should ever let the union be broken.
Adult Leader or senior patrol leader: As the parts of the flag are placed in the fire remember: “Old Flags never die, they just get fired up!”
The Scouts will maintain a vigil over the fire until no traces of the flag remnants remain. Then, the ashes will be collected and buried.
This concludes this ceremony.
In addition to Chip’s box and ceremony guide, here are a few more flag-related resources: