Military veteran Warren Howell couldn’t believe his eyes when he drove by a local thrift shop and saw two U.S. flags thrown out by a Dumpster.

“Our enemies burn and trash our flag out of hate,” he said. “Why do we have to see this disrespect on our city streets?”

He stopped his pickup and retrieved the gently used flags from a pile of stuff outside of Soul’s Harbor, which had already closed for the day.

“I know that a flag is only a product made of cotton and nylon, then painted with a pattern of choice,” he said. “But when a flag is chosen by the people, to be the symbol of their nation, to represent what men and women have lived and died for, for over 233 years … it becomes more. Much more.”

Contacted for comment, Soul’s Harbor manager Harold Reynolds said he certainly didn’t condone people throwing flags out by his business’ Dumpster.

“I’m a veteran. I don’t throw flags away,” he said, pointing to a flag on display on the wall. “You see where my flag is.”

Reynolds said the flags had to have been tossed after the business closed.

“We get all sorts of people come and dump stuff off without us knowing,” he said.

Proper flag retirement

Even though the flags were faded and frayed at the edges, Howell said he wants to remind people that federal law governs how flags may be disposed of – and that doesn’t include throwing them on the ground by a refuse container.

In Waxahachie, a container has been set up for flag collection at Nicholas P. Sims Library, with Boy Scout troops conducting a proper flag retirement ceremony periodically through the year.

Howell said he encourages people to take their old and worn U.S. flags to the library out of respect for the nation and its heritage of freedom. 

“Our American flag was chosen for a purpose by the men and women that built our nation,” he said. “In the heat of conflict they said, ‘This will represent what we stand for. This will tell the world that we are our own nation. We are free men.

“And over the 233 years of history as that free nation, it now stands for the millions of lives that have been sacrificed in the name of that freedom,” he said. “I have traveled over much of the world and to many I have met it stands for help, that they are not alone. In my mind it also means that the less fortunate people and nations of this world have a friend, that we are here.

“When evil men try to harm and kill the innocent and weak with their might, they will have to contend with us,” Howell said. “No one is alone when they need help. America is here. That is what the flag of the United States of America means to me. It is no longer a product when it takes on those colors. It is the beliefs and the lives of every American that has ever lived and that will ever live. And that deserves our respect.”

Liberty and respect

Sadly, the flags ended up in the trash the day after Memorial Day.

“I think this is another example of people here in our great country taking our liberties for granted, perhaps in ignorance of the price that we have paid to get them,” veteran Ed Faught said. “Memorial Day is supposed to be a reminder of that price, and has been degraded to a day that gets treated as a day off of work and a big sales day.

“It was originally established as a day that businesses could be closed to remember the soldiers and sailors who have given their lives for us,” Faught said. “I was dismayed on Sunday when I saw our local post office advertising that they would be closed to ‘celebrate’ Memorial Day. Obviously whoever wrote that sign has no idea of what it means.”

It’s not uncommon, he noted, for people to mistreat the U.S. flag, for whatever reason.

“Our nation’s flag has been abused before, sometimes by folks who simply want to get attention,” he said. “They know that there are a lot of our citizens who do respect the flag.”

Out of respect for the two flags, Howell said he would proudly display them for a week at his home and then take them to the library to await a proper retirement.

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