Unserviceable Flags Receive Dignified Disposal
By Liz Premo
Atlantic News, Thursday, June 19, 2003
HAMPTON — The raindrops fell and the flames flickered high during last Friday's flag burning ceremony, hosted by Hamptons' American Legion Post #35 and local Scout troops and held in the parking lot behind the uptown fire station.
About two dozen or so residents, many huddled under the shelter of umbrellas, joined scores of Hampton Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Legionnaires for the pre-Flag Day event. Nearby, stacks of boxes held countless flags that had been collected by the Legion in the weeks leading up to the event.
While members of Troop 177 displayed a large American flag, everyone in attendance recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge was followed by a patriotic sing-along medley, accompanied by Hampton firefighter Matt Newton on the bagpipes.
Then, aligned in two parallel rows, with a two-man color guard holding a triangularly-folded flag, Post #35 officers conducted the protocol for the inspection and dignified disposal of unserviceable flags.
After repeated inspections by each officer, Post #35 Commander Ralph Fatello pronounced the flags ready to be properly disposed.
"Comrades, we have presented here these Flags of our Country which have been inspected and condemned as unserviceable. They have reached their present state in a proper service of tribute, memory and love," said Fatello, reading from the American Legion's official flag burning program.
"A flag may be a flimsy bit of printed gauze, or a beautiful banner of finest silk," read Fatello. "Its intrinsic value may be trifling or great; but its real value is beyond price, for it is a precious symbol of all that we and our comrades have worked for and lived for, and died for — a free nation of free men, true to the faith of the past, devoted to the ideals and practice of justice, freedom and democracy."
Fatello continued, "Let these faded flags of our country be retired and destroyed with respectful and honorable rites and their places be taken by bright new flags of the same size and kind, and let no grave of our soldier or sailor dead be unhonored and unmarked." He then asked Post #35 Chaplain John Holman to offer a prayer.
"Almighty God, Captain of all hosts and Commander over all, bless and consecrate this present hour," Holman prayed, as those around him bowed their heads. "We thank Thee for our country and its flag, and for the liberty for which it stands. To clean and purging flame we commit these flags, worn-out in worthy service. As they yield their substance to the fire, may Thy Holy Light spread over us and bring to our hearts renewed devotion to God and Country. Amen."
Then, one after the other, the worn, tattered and unserviceable flags were ceremoniously fed to the flames, tended to by members of Post #35. A steady stream of scouts lined up to drop the flags onto the fire, beginning with a faded flag held by Cub Scout Christopher Dachowski of Pack 380.
The significance of the occasion was not lost on the older scouts, who watched and waited for their turn to participate.
"It's patriotic that we're retiring these flags, rather than just letting them decay," said Hoban Blume of Troop 177.
"It makes me proud when we're able to have things like this," said Hoban's brother and fellow scout, Salim. He was thankful for the crowd's show of patriotism, despite the weather. "Everyone [here is] patriotic," said Salim. "It's good they're here, even though it's raining."
Brentan Cupp, also of Troop 177, commented that the burning of unserviceable flags is an honorable act, one that should not be taken lightly. Displaying respect while the flags are being burned "shows it's not malicious," said Cupp. Hoban agreed, saying "It's out of respect, not to be rude."
The younger scouts appeared to be of the same mind as their older counterparts. "It's not like we're ruining the spirit of our country," said Adam Olofson, waiting in line to add a flag to the flames. "It's fine, because we're going to get new flags."
A light but steady sprinkle continued from the skies above as the ceremony progressed. Thirteen large produce boxes full of flags were emptied, one by one, until each and every flag had been retired with dignity, honor and respect.
Watching the flames, Craig Olofson, one of the scouts who took part in the ceremony, expressed his own opinion on what was taking place. "It's not a pretty sight to see the flag burning," he said, "but at least it's for the right reason."