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    Old Glory goes out in a blaze: The last rites for broad stripes and white stars

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    With Independence Day on the horizon, we thought a nice story about flag burning would be in order.

    The other kind of flag burning.

    These aren't flags being doused with kerosene and torched in protest amid angry chants against the government. This is about paying homage to tattered U.S. flags by setting them ablaze in retirement ceremonies - like the one performed on Flag Day, June 14, by veterans at the Leisuretown retirement community in Southampton, N.J.

    Don Hetzel, president of the community's Military Veterans Association, acted as master of ceremonies for the ceremony, performed in conjunction with the local Boy Scout Troop 31.

    It was a solemn affair, with 50 or so onlookers in hushed attention. An instrumental version of the national anthem was played on a tape recorder and broadcast by loudspeaker.

    Vets saluted and ordinary folks held their right hands over their hearts. A color guard marched in. Speeches were made.

    A cluster of scouts in uniform stood a respectful distance from a waist-high kettle that served as a fire pit. On a nearby table lay about 100 flags - some large, others small - that had been deemed unworthy of display, collected by the veterans, and set aside for this ceremony.

    Four of the scouts picked up one large flag, each holding one corner. The audience watched as the scouts cut the red and white stripes into strips. Each strip was burned separately as an announcer issued salutes and tributes: to all veterans of all wars, to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to the preservation of our rights as Americans.

    The ceremony, which dates from at least the Civil War, was officially established in the 1920s, according to Dave Martucci, a past president of the North American Vexillological Association (vexillology being the study of flags).

    According to the terms of the U.S. Flag Code of 1923, when an American flag is worn threadbare or otherwise unfit to fly, "it should be disposed of in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

    The other kind of flag burning, done in protest, was declared illegal, first by individual states and later by the federal government, in 1968 - a year in which the nation was particularly rocked by civil unrest, said Muriel Morisey, who teaches law at Temple University. But a 1989 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court restored constitutional protection to flag burning.

    "This is how the First Amendment is interpreted by the Supreme Court," said Morisey. Flag burning "would be my constitutional right . . . if I chose to."

    Ina Cabaņas, who attended the ceremony and lives in nearby Pemberton, said she sometimes uses the flag she was given at her father's funeral "as a blanket. It comforts me."

    "I don't like to see people burning [flags] in anger," Cabaņas said, "but it's better than blowing up buildings."

    Her friend Tom Heller of Southampton, whose father earned a Purple Heart in World War II, said flag-burning protests make him cringe. But, Heller said, "our laws don't need to change - our culture does."

    And Ray Connally, a World War II veteran and Leisuretown resident too ill to attend the ceremony, said that burning a flag in protest "insults the millions of citizens who have fought and died to protect our way of life."

    Overall, public concern for the flag as a symbol seems to wax and wane.

    The folks at Gallup have polled repeatedly on the question of making flag burning illegal, and every time the majority favors a constitutional amendment against flag burning. But the percentage of people who favor making it illegal was smaller in the years after Sept. 11 (55 percent in 2005) than before (63 percent in 1999).

    A separate Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll found that the number of Americans who displayed the U.S. flag was at 82 percent immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, and dropped to 66 percent by the same date in 2002.

    Brian O'Connor, who has owned and operated Humphry's Flags in Center City for 30 years, says he has seen flag sales rise and fall. "At the end of World War II, practically everyone in the U.S. flew a flag. Fifteen year later, it was 30 percent, and this downward trend continues. Major wars and events do stir up sales, though. After Sept. 11, there was a spike in patriotism. . . . "

    In Southampton, after the last stripes were tossed into the fire pit, a recording of Taps was played. Some people in the audience wept as the last square of fabric - the one bearing white stars on a blue background - was added to the flames.

    Individuals then were invited to step forward, and like mourners tossing flowers on a grave, they put the remaining flags in the fire.

    "I will always be a part of this," vowed Zach Bryceland of Southampton, who has earned the life rank of the Boy Scouts. "Our flag deserves respect."



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    When It's Time to Get Rid of Your Flag

    The VFW suggests these steps for disposing of a worn-out flag.

    1. The flag should be folded in its customary manner.

    2. Once a fire is intense enough to ensure the flag burns completely, place the flag on the fire. (Conform to local and state fire codes or ordinances.)

    3. Participants in the ceremony then would salute the flag, recite the pledge of allegiance, and have a brief period of silent reflection.

    4. After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should be safely extinguished and the ashes buried.

  2. #2
    MacLean's Avatar
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    I always thought you had to de-construct the flag first - or maybe that is just a military thing.
    I'm your huckleberry...

    Quemadmoeum gladis nemeinum occidit, occidentus telum est!

    You can be the weapon, and the gun in your hand is a tool - or the gun is a weapon and you are the tool.


    I was looking for a saint who was a devil of a lover,
    but every girl I found was either one way or the other...



 

 

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