Eagle Scout project helps Alabamians retire American flags

Published 6:43 am Sunday, August 1, 2021

Opelika teen Ben Livingston said he only joined Boy Scout Troop 858 because a friend convinced him to when he was only 12, and five years later he’s on track to reach the highest rank available for the group.

After joining as Scout and working his way through the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, and Life while earning dozens of merit badges over his years in the Boy Scouts, Livingston is on track to become an Eagle Scout after he completes his community project: receptacles placed around the city for residents to properly retire their United States flags.

“I got the idea from one of our leaders in my boy scout troop, and he gave me the idea to do flag retirement boxes since no one else around here has any,” Livingston said. “The idea was to build the boxes, collect the flags and give them to the troops so we could properly retire them.”

Livingston said flags should be considered for retirement after they’ve faded in color or have become dirty or frayed at the ends, and once it’s been worn and torn, a United States flag shouldn’t merely be thrown in the trash.

According to Livingston, flags should be retired according to the United States flag code which states that they should be “destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

“There are two different ways you can retire a flag,” Livingston said. “The more traditional way is via fire, so you fold the flag, present it to the fire, unfold the flag and lay it over the fire and don’t just throw it in there so you show the proper respect for it. The second way is for when the flag is super beat up or super torn where you can’t hold it and stretch it out and place it in the fire, you cut the stripes of the flag individually and place them in the fire that way.”

With help and donations from local businesses and community members, Livingston was able to get enough materials to create three flag retirement boxes to be placed around the city of Opelika for anyone to access and place their old flags, including at Opelika City Hall, the Opelika SportsPlex and Opelika Public Works.

“One of my agreements for making the boxes was that for the next three years after the boxes were delivered, I would go around to each box once every month or two and collect the flags to deliver to my troop so they could retire them at a flag ceremony,” Livingston said.

While Livingston said he was committed to earning his Eagle Scout rank for the sense of accomplishment as well as the potential impact on his applications to college, the scout also has personal reasons to choose the flag retirement boxes as his final project as both his father and grandfather were veterans of the armed forces.

“After joining the Boy Scouts at 12 years old, this is kind of like wrapping it all up and I want to push to the end and see it fulfilled all the way out,” Livingston said.