When elemental forces leave Old Glory threadbare and worn, the last place it should go is on a trash heap.
The U.S. Flag Code is succinct: “The Flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
As scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 3 in Tupelo, Bob Lence has a duty to know the proper way to retire a flag. The Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, American Legion and the U.S. military routinely dispose of weathered flags.
“That quote from the Flag Code is all the official guidance there is,” Lence said on an overcast December day.
“There are many different ways to do it. As long as it’s a dignified ceremony, it fits the requirement.”
With assistant leaders Cass Patrick and Jim Seiler, Lence and members of Troop 3 recently took nine U.S. flags to a fire ring behind First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo.
With a fire burning strong, Lence and the Scouts gathered around a worn flag that had flown in front of the Daily Journal.
They cut it into its red and white stripes, and kept the blue and white union whole. The Scouts placed the flag’s component parts on a wooden table, Lence took his place behind a lectern and the ceremony began.
“We gather here today for that solemn purpose” outlined in the Flag Code, Lence said. A prayer of dedication followed, then the scouts saluted during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Each Scout picked up a strip of the flag and walked through dried leaves to the crackling fire. Before placing pieces of the flag into the fire, the boys read patriotic quotes from Founders, presidents, soldiers, visionaries and authors.
The blue union was last. Two boys placed it on the fire, after Lence read a quote by Calvin Coolidge: “We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth. It represents our peace and security, our civil and political liberty, our freedom of religious worship, our family, our friends, our home.
We see it in the great multitude of blessings, of rights and privileges that make up our country.
“But when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights, we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done.”
After the fire consumed the last of the ceremonial flag, the boys, two by two, added other tattered flags to the blaze. Participants and onlookers were quiet, as black smoke rose into the air.
“It’s simple dignity,” Lence said after the ceremony. “Not a lot of pomp,” Seiler said. “No, not a lot of pomp,” Patrick said.
At Yocona Area Council Scouting events, 300 to 400 flags could be destroyed during a single ceremony. No matter what the number, the overriding principle is the same: respect.
With their duty complete, most of the scouts were free to go about their days, while some stayed to put out the fire. But before everyone went their separate ways, a gentle breeze rustled in the trees and soft sunlight poked through the clouds.
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-
1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.