A modest crowd gathered at the American Legion last week as the post held its annual flag retirement service to celebrate Flag Day on June 14.
The ceremony is a somber and dignified event that the post members take very seriously. Post member Wayne Basden says the ceremony is a service to the whole community.
“Every year businesses and individuals within the city drop off their torn or faded flags to be disposed of in the proper way and we collect them until we hold our retirement service on Flag Day. The service allows the community to help us honor the flag and what it represents and it helps spread the word that the only proper way to dispose of an unserviceable flag is by burning it as part of a dignified service,” he said.
The service began with a ceremonial exchange between the Commander Jessie Maldonado, Second Vice-Commander Emil Slovak (with Basden filling in for the absent Slovak) and the Sergeant at Arms Emil Zabojnik, where the unserviceable flags are presented for inspection. It is the job of the commander to determine if the flags have served their purpose and have come to this point in a dignified and respectful manner. Also, it is his job to ask why the flags that are brought to him are unserviceable.
The sergeant at arms then explains the purpose of some of the flags presented.
“These flags have become faded and worn over the graves of our departed comrades and the dead soldiers, sailors and airmen of all our nation’s wars. Some of these flags have also been displayed in public places.”
With the explanation, Maldonado gave the order to have the flags be retired and disposed of and explained to the crowd the significance behind the ceremony.
“A flag may be a flimsy bit of gauze or a beautiful banner of finest silk. Its intrinsic value may be trifling or great, but its real value is beyond price. 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 and women, true to the faith of the past, devoted to the ideals and practice of justice, freedom and democracy, he said. 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, airman or sailor be unhonored and unmarked,” he said.
Members of the legion post, family and friends then laid flags across a steel rod and solemnly stood silent and saluted as the flames crept up the material and engulfed more than 200 flags disposed of during the ceremony.
In keeping with the proper disposal of the flags, the ashes from the fire were buried the following day.
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