BELLEVILLE, NJ — “Let these faded flags of our country be retired and destroyed with respectful and honorable rites and their places be taken by bright new flags of the same size and kind,” read American Legion Post 105 Commander Joseph J. Cobianchi as part of a ceremony for the disposal of unserviceable flags, held Sunday, Nov. 20, in the parking lot of Post 105 at 621 Washington Ave. in Belleville.
Organized by Post 105 Legionnaires and members of the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 105, between 3,000 and 4,000 flags were retired in the scripted ceremony. This year, Scouts from Cub Scout Pack 141 and Girl Scouts from Troops 20122 and 20462 were invited to participate.
The Cub Scouts attended the ceremony to complete their “Wolf Adventure” learning about Americanism, called the “Council Fire (Duty to Country)” badge.
“It was very emotional to share this experience with some of the young Pack members and to help them understand the importance of the ceremony,” Pack 141 den leader Meghan Myers said. “At first they didn’t understand why we burn the flags, so it was very important to help them understand why we must retire old flags and how to do so in a proper, respectful manner.”
“It was our privilege to observe this in a dignified, proud way,” attendee Tricia Durr said.
As stated in the United States Flag Code, “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” The American Legion is one of the patriotic organizations that is allowed to perform this ceremony.
“It really makes you appreciate all we have in this country,” said Jackie Elsmore, who recently joined the American Legion Auxiliary.
Some of the flags that were retired were shredded and tattered, coming from homes, public buildings and businesses from around the area. Post 105 has a mailbox outside its building where people can drop their old flags to be destroyed. More than 7,000 flags each year are dropped off at the post to be retired; many of these come from area cemeteries, having been placed on the graves of veterans for Memorial Day.
Other patriotic items are also always found in the flag dropoff box. This year, members found a VFW uniform cap from a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific and participated in the liberation of the Philippines in 1945, as well as a flag dedicated to the firefighters who were lost at the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, specifically mentioning the 343 firefighters who died responding that day. Handwritten on that flag in black ink is part of the firefighter’s prayer: “Wherever flames may rage, give me the strength to save some life.” Both the cap and the flag will be saved and preserved, to be put up somewhere in the post hall.
“The flag retirement ceremony is very solemn, to be sure. But finding that hat, and reading the prayer on that flag really drives home the meaning of what the American flag stands for,” SAL 105 Adjutant Rusty Myers said. “At the moment Ed Hall found that flag, everyone stopped, because that made the event that much more human. We all got very emotional when we read the prayer and saw the hat, as both speak to the incredible sacrifice those who have served make.”
Before they left for the day, the Cub Scouts all joined together to shout “God bless America!”
“I was very happy that we had all of the Cub, Girl and Boy Scouts today,” Cobianchi said. “It is an honor to do this, and it is something that is very close to my heart, to retire these flags which have been over our veterans’ graves.”
The ceremony took five hours, with Legionnaires and SALs standing guard over the fire until it was completely out, as per the American Legion retirement ceremony protocols.
Legionnaire Ed Hall, who is also an SAL in honor of his father’s service, said the ceremony was touching “because so many people have fought so hard to give us the freedom we have. These flags represent all of that.”
Photos Courtesy of Rusty Myers