The Star-Spangled Banner will be flying high across the country this Labor Day, reminding onlookers of the freedom it represents. So we wanted to take some time to pay our own storage tip-tribute to Old Glory.
Properly handling the flag is more than hanging it high and proud. There is protocol that dictates how to store the American flag between national holidays.
At American Legion Post 291 in Newport Beach, 14 veterans – ages 42 to 84 – from nearly every military branch recently gathered seaside to practice their voluntary honor guard duties, and to share the importance of proper flag storage.
“The flag means everything,” said Honor Guard Cmdr. Brian Fleming Jr., a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who fought as an infantry assault man in Iraq. “It’s what we’re founded on. It’s our history.”
He also has flown the American flag in more countries than states he’s visited in the U.S. and now dedicates his free time to training his Honor Guard team proper flag-handling techniques.
So we asked him and the other Honor Guard veterans – who prepared 62 American flags at funeral services last year – for storage and handling tips.
Properly Fold the American flag into a Triangle Before Storing
“The flag is offered different respect, and it shouldn’t be folded like basic linen,” Fleming Jr. said.
To properly fold an American flag, at least two people, but ideally three, should start by folding the flag together twice, lengthwise. Then, from the red-stripes end, fold in a triangular fashion until you reach the blue end, according to the American Legion Post 291 Honor Guard website.
The remaining material at the end of the triangular folds should be tucked inside the folds to secure it.
By the end, the flag should be folded into 13 triangles. Rumor has it each of the 13 folds has a specific meaning, but Fleming Jr. said that’s not true.
“The purpose of the triangle fold is a representation of the colonial hat,” he said.
Use Wooden Boxes or Plastic Bags to Store the American Flag
Most military gear – including the American flag – is expected to be carried and stored in the same way: clean, dry and serviceable, said Kevin Van Otterloo, Honor Guard vice commander and U.S. Air Force veteran.
“We consider the flag a living thing,” Van Otterloo said. “No matter how you store it, you must handle it respectfully.”
Triangular, plastic protective bags are available at craft stores and online retailers. If you’d like to display the folded flag indoors when it’s off duty, fancier wooden display boxes are also available.
But Van Otterloo said you can use any sort of plastic bag, as long as it’s going to shield the flag from moisture, dirt and pests.
How to Properly Dispose of an American Flag
If a flag has become faded, torn or unserviceable, it is inappropriate to throw it away or fly it, said Van Otterloo. Instead, take the flag to your local fire department, American Legion post or Boy Scout troop to properly dispose of the American flag.
“It will be burned ceremoniously,” Fleming Jr. said. “(Flags) should never be thrown in the trash.”
“The ceremony is like a funeral for that flag,” Van Otterloo added.
It’s important to remember what the American flag represents every time you hang, fly, handle or store it, because then you’ll remember how to treat it.
“There’s almost nothing I love more than that flag,” Van Otterloo said. “I get emotional every time I think about it.”
Thank you to the veterans at American Legion Post 291 and Happy Labor Day!