ILWACO - On any given day, turning on the TV news you might see someone burning the American flag. Whether it is a group of people in a far away land burning it in effigy, or someone on a college campus burning it in protest, it has become a symbol of revolt in these times.
Monday night, flags were burning in Ilwaco. Burning out of respect.
Mauri Smith, outgoing commander of the American Legion Post 48 of Ilwaco, presided over the ceremony. He called forth men from Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment, two bearing rifles and two bearing flags, who stood at attention as those in attendance recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The stateliness of the ceremony is undeniable, there's even a script that is to be followed.
Once done, Legion representatives Harry Easley and Al Moreno picked two flags from the rest, dipped them in kerosene and laid one each in the two barbecue-sized half-drums that had been smoldering with charcoal for some time.
Up in smoke. Immediately the blood red, silvery white and true blue began to disintegrate, but like a phoenix, rose again to the sky one last time as a stiff north wind carried the smoke south.
It's interesting to see the old, tattered, worn, color-faded flags burning in the barrels, being tossed in one after another, right next to a big, bright, vibrant, new flag flapping in the wind, held by the white gloved hand of a Coast Guardsman.
"Did you know that the sale of flags has dropped like 70-something percent?" Moreno asked some of the guys as they stood next to the toasty fire pits. "They interviewed this one store [on the news] that had ordered like a thousand of them. He said he has like 950 left.
"Patriotism all of a sudden has faded away."
There weren't as many in attendance of the ceremony this year as in years past. There were also fewer flags, less than 100.
"We're so hit and miss, sometimes we have good participation. That's just like Memorial Day, last year we had good turnout, this year ... You just kind of wonder sometimes," said Moreno, who thought that one reason may be the fact that America is one more year past the 9/11 tragedy.
Of those that they did dispose, Smith said that many came from Bob Andrews, who is the organizer of the Loyalty Days celebration. They also received a slew of miniature flags used to adorn veterans graves on holidays from VFW commander Les Smith, who replaced many of them.
Flag Day was officially established in anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777 by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. The Ceremony for Disposal of Unserviceable Flags was approved through Resolution No. 440, by the National Convention of The American Legion meeting in New York, New York, Sept. 20, 1937, and has been an integral part of Legion ritual since that date. Flag Day was made a national holiday in 1949 by President Harry Truman.
Even though there were fewer flags, fewer people in attendance this year, Smith made sure that it was known that even if there were but a few flags and no one there, they would still do it.
"It's showing respect for our flags and our country," he said. "It's just the proper way of taking care of it. That's what it is, it's pure respect."
As he stood outside while everyone else was snacking on cookies inside the Legion hall, Harry Easley watched as the last few traces of Old Glory faded to ash, and added that the ceremony has another meaning too.
"We do all the flag ceremonies that we do to honor the memory of those that gave the full measure for this country, regardless of what war," he said. "I think it's justifiable to do these kinds of things - to make sure that we don't forget."