Tattered flags

Tattered and worn flags like these are collected by St. Peter's American Legion for proper disposal. During a special ceremony held June 14, they will be burnt. (Jessica Bies/St. Peter Herald)  

Faded and worn in a tribute of service, patriotism and love, American flags no longer serviceable deserve proper disposal, say area veterans.

Whether the flags be flimsy pieces of printed gauze or beautiful banners of the finest silk, they are symbols of what the nation’s veterans and servicemen and women have fought and died for — justice, freedom and democracy.

That’s why this Flag Day, June 14, St. Peter’s William R. Witty American Legion Post holds a ceremony for the dignified disposal of unserviceable flags 7:30 p.m. at the Nicollet County Fairgrounds.

The ceremony will be held rain or shine and includes members of the American Legion Auxiliary, Sons of the American Legion and the Vietnam War Era Last Man’s Club of St. Peter.

It will conclude with the dignified burning of American flags no longer considered serviceable.

“It’s a very solemn event,” said Legionnaire and first vice commander Greg Witty. “It’ll be like a funeral pyre where we actually burn the flags.”

The St. Peter American Legion has long collected flags that are no longer serviceable, said Bill Kautt, squadron commander for the Sons of the American Legion. It currently has four large boxes of old, weathered flags set aside for retirement.

But many residents do not know that there are set procedures for disposing of the flags, Kautt said. That’s part of what makes holding the ceremony so important.

“I think part of it is education, of course,” Kautt said. “I think everyone knows about the flag, sees the flag and is pretty respectful of the flag. But I don’t know if everyone necessarily knows everything about the flag, especially the care of a flag after it’s no longer fit for service.”

Not only that, but many flags are disposed of improperly, Kautt said. In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, the Legion will collect residents’ flags for retirement during the ceremony. Residents can also bring them to the ceremony itself, to be set aside for proper disposal at a later date.

“I think a lot of people very patriotically fly their flags and when a flag becomes ripped and threadbare and so forth from the wear and tear of the elements here in Minnesota, probably just throw it in the trash or something not even aware that there is a procedure for disposing of them,” Kautt said.

The ceremony itself is highly ritualized.

It is to be led by American Legion Post Commander Eric Thomas. Representatives from each area veterans club stand in two parallel rows about 20 feet apart, facing each other. A small fire burns opposite the commander and beyond the rows of members.

After a short, scripted presentation, a chaplain leads the audience in a prayer and the Legion Color Guard presents arms.

The condemned flags are dipped in kerosene and placed in the fire while a bugler plays “To the Colors.”

Witty said the Legion will burn several of the flags during the public ceremony and the rest afterward. The flags’ ashes will be buried.

If all goes well, this will be the first of many flag-burning ceremonies, Kautt said. Going forward, the Legion hopes to hold one every Flag Day.

“We want to keep this fairly straightforward and simple this first year and maybe expand upon it in the future,” Kautt said. “We would like to see it become an annual event.”

Reach reporter Jessica Bies at 507-931-8568 or follow her on Twitter.com @sphjessicabies

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