Worn flags meet a dignified end in the pure flames of Flag Day
ILWACO - Many stars and stripes were put to rest Saturday night. They had served their purpose, represented the country - they had their day. But the wind and weather also had their way with them, fraying the reds and whites, fading the blue. And in a puff of smoke, they were released from their duty.
The Don R. Grable American Legion Post 48 held a Flag Day disposal ceremony Saturday night in Ilwaco. An American flag is deemed fit to dispose of by burning once it has ripped, frayed or faded noticeably in color. The idea is to burn it discretely.
Following a script written by the American Legion for these specific ceremonies, Post Commander Mauri Smith led his group of two vice commanders, sergeant at arms and Post chaplain through the necessary procedures. First, the sergeant at arms presented a representation of the some of the damaged flags. The chaplain prayed over the retired symbols before each flag was dipped in kerosene, to ensure complete burning, and then placed one by one into the fire.
"It's just respect of the flag in a proper and dignified way," said Smith of the ceremony. "That is very important to the American Legion, the proper retirement of our national symbol."
This is the second year in a row that the local Legion Post has performed the disposal ceremony. Smith said that last year was the first time since 1993.
"I would like to see it done every year," said Smith. "I think there's enough [flags] here to warrant it."
He added that the coastal weather causes flags to deteriorate quicker than in other areas.
Smith, who attended his first flag retirement ceremony last year said that it was "very emotional."
" I don't know any other way to put it," he said. "It's a serious thing to me. I don't take the flag in light manner."
Smith, a veteran himself, is the father of an Air Force Reservist who has already served two tours in the Middle East.
"I get a lump in my throat every time I see the American flag, and I think most veterans do," he said. "We gave up lives and health for that. It's special to me."
Smith read from an article written by Alvin W. Hosley, past National Commander of the American Legion. The speech encouraged people to show their pride when the flag is present.
"Somebody may laugh, it is in the blood of some to mock all expression of noble sentiment," read Smith. "But don't you mind when Old Glory comes along. Stand up, salute. Let them think what they please. Don't be ashamed when your throat chokes and the tears come as you see a flag from the mast of our ships on all the seas or floating from every flag staff of the republic. You will never have a worthier emotion."
Those emotions ran through Marianne Manning as she witnessed the flags burn away Saturday night.
"It makes me almost tear up," she said, "I think of all the servicemen who lost their lives in the wars."
And Manning knows of which she speaks - one of her cousins died during the D-Day invasion on Omaha Beach. Manning's husband Pat, a veteran of the Air Force, is the sergeant at arms for the Ilwaco Legion Post.
"It's very touching," he said. "I just wonder where some of these flags have flown and would like to see what they have seen in their service to the community."
All in all, 127 flags saw their end Saturday night. Some were wool, cotton, or nylon, some looking as though they were rags. Smith said many of the larger flags disposed of were probably flown over commercial buildings.
The idea of an annual date to celebrate the flag is thought to have originated in 1885 at a Wisconsin public school, originally dubbed "Flag Birthday." In 1894, the governor of New York directed that on June 14 the flag be displayed on all public buildings.
Inspired by three decades of state and local celebrations, Flag Day, the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777, was officially established by a proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916. While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after Wilson's proclamation, it was not until Aug. 3, 1949 that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day.
The Ceremony for Disposal of Unserviceable Flags was approved through Resolution No. 440, by the National Convention of The American Legion, New York, New York, Sept. 22, 1937, and has been an integral part of American Legion ritual since that date. The resolution reads that Flag Day, June 14, be recommended as the most appropriate day on which to annually hold this ceremony.