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Do you know how to dispose of a flag that is tattered and torn? We all have heard that flags should not be just tossed into the trash, but should be burned. I learned a meaningful lesson about retiring a flag as we celebrated Independence Day with an all-day family picnic at Lake Hickory in North Carolina.

The group was made up of a wide variety of ages--from one to 80, with lots of young adults and teens. It was heartwarming to see a wide range of occupations represented, such as nurses, teachers, insurance, real estate, office managers, mechanics, hair stylist, minister of Christian education, farmers, business owners and armed services personnel. One person’s comment was, “We are allowed to celebrate our nation’s birthday in the way we like. The families represent the strength of America.”

The climax of the day was a flag retirement ceremony in the evening following a fireworks display. The ceremony was planned and carried out by three members of the military.

Here are excerpts from the ceremony:

When the United States flag (Old Glory) becomes worn, torn, faded or badly soiled, it is time to replace it with a new flag, and the old flag should be “retired” with all the dignity and respect befitting our nation’s flag. The traditional method of retirement is to incinerate the flag, but this does not mean that we simply drop the entire flag (intact) into a fire. Today, we are not burning a flag, but retiring a symbol of America’s honor, courage, and strength. Therefore, we request that all remain silent during this ceremony.

A flag ceases to be a flag when it is cut into pieces. In addition, it is easier to completely incinerate the smaller pieces of the flag. It should never be torn up like an old bed sheet, but be cut up with scissors or shears in a methodical manner, separating red stripes, white stripes and the blue star field, which is not separated, because it represents the union of the fifty states and one should never let the union be broken.

“The U.S. flag is more than just some brightly colored cloth   . . . it is a symbol of our nation. Seven red stripes and six white stripes, together represent the original 13 colonies that gained us liberty. The red stripes remind us of the lifeblood of brave men and women who were ready to die for this, their country. The white stripes remind us of purity and cleanliness of purpose, thought, word and deed. The blue is for truth and justice, like the eternal blue of the star-filled heavens.

The stars represent the fifty states that together make up our Union. The American Creed states, ‘It is my duty to my country to love it, to respect its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.’ The U.S. flag should be treated with respect when it’s flying, and should be treated with respect when it’s being retired.

We separate the 13 stripes that represent the original 13 colonies, and the 50 stars to pay homage to the 50 states that together make up this great nation. Each stripe is placed individually in the burning fire with a stick. The following comments are read:

‘The white stands for purity that is in all our hearts. It represents the honor deep inside our soul. The red stands for courage of the men and women in the armed forces who have served or died to keep freedom alive. It also stands for those on our soil who have died to protect the rights of others. The blue stands for valor and courage that binds our fifty states together. The blue field indicates God’s heaven, under which it flies’.”

“Give me liberty or give me death.”

“One if by land, two if by sea.”

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or press.”

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

“One Nation under God.”

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The ceremony ends with The Pledge of Allegiance: “I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

A representative of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Grantsville said that the organization holds periodic flag retirements. Any person can contact their local VFW Post for information. They will be honored to give the last rites to the flag. The number of Post 5959 is 354-6550.

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