Flags retired with dignity in Flag Day ceremony

Members of Boy Scout Troop 4070 look on solemnly as a stripped, old flag is burned during a flag retirement ceremony on Flag Day Wednesday in Bucklin Park in El Centro.

EL CENTRO — They can be found all over the country — tattered United States flags flying above gas stations, or ripped red and white stripes fluttering over houses. When their time comes, protocol determines these flags must be respectfully retired from service and replaced with new ones.

For the first time, the American Legion hosted a Flag Day open to the community in Bucklin Park Wednesday, inviting the public to see a ceremony usually done in private: the proper retirement of worn U.S. flags.

To prepare for the event, Boy Scout Troop 4070 collected flags from the American Legion and the public, helped fold them properly, and placed them in a pit to be burned. The troop was also part of the ceremony and carefully stripped a flag before burning it in a very solemn portion of the event.

Tracy Rascoe, American Legion District 30 commander, said the flag is a symbol of our country that has stood the test of time in government, schoolhouses, and on the battlefield. According to Rascoe, the event was held to help the public understand the real meaning of Flag Day and to bring back respect for the military in the community.

“It is both a rallying symbol to Americans, and a sign of defiance to our enemies,” said Rascoe.

The solemn ceremony filled U.S. Air Force veteran Eli Granillo with a sadness that brought tears to his eyes. Granillo said he raises a flag every day at home and dutifully will burn it when the time is up.

“It just breaks my heart,” said Granillo.

At least 300 flags were retired at Wednesday’s ceremony. Members of the public were encouraged to add a fire to the pit after the ceremony.

“They’ve served their purpose,” said Larry Ram, another Air Force veteran. “They represented our country well and their time is up. What we should do is give them a proper retirement in public.”

“Burning it any other way is considered degrading,” said Mario Soto, the judge advocate for District 30. “We hope we’ll be doing this again next year.”

U.S. flags are meant to be honorably retired when they become too damaged to continue flying, according to protocol, and it must be done with a ceremony befitting a symbol of the country. The American Legion has been performing the duty for years, according to Rascoe. Scout Master Ross Simmons said Troop 4070 tries to retire a couple flags every month during scout camping trips.

According to the website www.usflag.org, the Flag Day holiday was established the same day the U.S. flag was designated as the country’s official flag on June 14, 1777, thanks to the First Flag Act. The Stars and Stripes has flown over government buildings, schools, businesses, and homes ever since. However, June 14 was not named Flag Day until 1949, when President Truman signed an Act of Congress to make it official.

It is considered extremely offensive and even illegal to desecrate the flag, however, following the Supreme Court ruling, it is legal for individuals to burn the flag under the First Amendment as free speech, the website said.