Island flags go up in flames of glory

Will Holbert, left, and Jameson Gavac from South Whidbey Boy Scout Troop 57 prepare to place a U.S. flag into the fire during a flag retirement ceremony at American Legion Post 141 in Bayview.  - Kathy Reed / The Record
Will Holbert, left, and Jameson Gavac from South Whidbey Boy Scout Troop 57 prepare to place a U.S. flag into the fire during a flag retirement ceremony at American Legion Post 141 in Bayview.
— image credit: Kathy Reed / The Record

Hungry flames devoured more than 100 United States flags at the American Legion Post 141 in Bayview Thursday, June 14, curling orange and yellow tongues around the red, white and blue symbol of our nation.

“Retiring flags by burning is the honorable way to get rid of those that are no longer  serviceable,” said Americanism chairman for Post 141, Andy Campbell. “Rather than throw them in a landfill, this is the proper way, the American way.”

Campbell is quite correct. The National Flag Code was approved and adopted by the National Flag Conference in 1923, but it wasn’t adopted by Congress until 1942. The code states, “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.”

Members of Boy Scout Troop 57 helped perform the ceremony, which was held on Flag Day and supervised by American Legion officers. The first order of business was to sort through all the flags that had been collected over the previous year. Any flags that were found to be too soiled, too faded, too worn or ripped were folded properly and took their place in line for destruction.

“We do this as a community service, to honor the institution of the flag and to show respect,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, members of the American Legion are always keeping their eyes open for flags in need of retirement.

“We look for them and recover them and ask people if we can take them down,” he said. “Most of the time they’re willing to let us do that.”

More than just Legion members are getting involved in retiring flags.

“Ace Hardware put out a collection box, so we’re getting the community involved in turning them in,” said Post 141 Adjutant Jim Knott. “Ceremonies like this are good, too, because younger kids learn how to fold them and learn proper respect for the flag.”

“It teaches young people respect,” agreed Campbell. “They really don’t teach this in school — it’s completely overlooked.”

As the ceremony got underway, two scouts unfolded the first flag, holding it up before American Legion officials for inspection, then walking it over to the fire barrel where it was laid across the flames and given a final salute. The process was repeated for each flag.

This was the first flag retirement ceremony Marshal Campbell, 86, had ever seen.

“It was really good,” he said. “It’s a nice way to get rid of the flags and it’s good for the kids, too.”

“I am very honored to be able to help the community in the rightful disposal of flags,” said 16-year-old Jameson Gavac, member of Troop 57.

Gavac has helped at other disposal ceremonies, unlike some of the younger members of the troop.

“It was an honor to retire a lot of flags,” said Brock Gray, 10. “And I learned how to fold them properly.”

“I’ve seen retirements, but not this big,” said 11-year-old Michael Maddux. “It was really fun.”

“When I was younger, it didn’t mean as much,” acknowledged Will Holbert, 15. “But now I see what it means to be here, and it’s an honor.”

“People sometimes make fun of you when you’re part of an organization like the Boy Scouts,” said 13-year-old Evan Mellish. “But you can take a lot from it. And being here, sharing this with the veterans, you learn a lot.”

The ashes from the burned flags will be collected and respectfully buried. Now the work begins anew to gather flags for next year’s ceremony. Anyone is welcome to drop off unserviceable flags at the American Legion in Bayview during regular business hours. The Oak Harbor American Legion Post 129 on Barrington Avenue also collects flags throughout the year, as does Oak Harbor’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on Goldie Road.

Perhaps Andy Campbell, who stood watching the stars and stripes succumb to the flames, said it best:

“It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend, it really is,” he said.

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