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Flags go up in a blaze of glory

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By Lisa King

Noble Roberts, chaplain of VFW Post 1179, said that few funeral services are as stirring as those held for Old Glory.

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"There are several different versions of flag-burning ceremonies, but all are very patriotic," he said.

Roberts, a Coast Guard veteran who said his job was to "patch the flags" on his ship, delivered the eulogy and served as narrator at a flag-retiring ceremony held last Tuesday at Clear Creek Park by the Sons of the American Revolution and the VFW.

As not everyone is aware, a flag that is tattered, torn or just plain worn-out cannot simply be just thrown into the trash.

In most flag-retirement ceremonies, the flag is burned amidst a great deal of ceremonial procedure. Everything must be done with the utmost respect, Roberts said.

Vietnam veteran Dennis Scott took the remains of the dozens of flags burned last week to be buried on his farm, Robert said.

After the flag is "cremated," its remains are removed and buried, and a marker can be erected if desired.

At last week's ceremony, as with most such ceremonies, more than one flag is retired.

"We had several flags that we retired," Roberts said.

Such ceremonies are usually scheduled close to Flag Day (June 14) and are held by veteran organizations, scout organizations or related ones.

According to www.usflag.org, The National Flag Code was adopted to guide the public on how to retire a flag based on military procedures.

The basic flag ceremony is very formal, beginning with a color guard carrying the flag to a place of honor while everyone salutes or places their hand over their heart. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited by the audience, and The Star Spangled Banner is sung.

The chaplain or narrator reviews the history of the flag(s) to be retired and explains what each star and stripe means, and then the actual cremation takes place.

Roberts said that though he knows the origin of all the smaller flags for this ceremony, he knows nothing about the largest flag that was retired on Tuesday.

"It was the strangest thing," he said. "Someone put it on the doorstep of our post, and we found it there."

Well, at least someone knew that the flag should not be simply thrown away.

Although the National Flag Code does not impose penalties for throwing away a flag, it does make provisions  for each state, as well as the District of Columbia, to impose their own penalties for abuse of the flag.

In Kentucky, desecrating the U.S. Flag or the Kentucky State Flag is a Class A misdemeanor, according to KRS 525.110.

Roger Green, commander of VFW Post 1179, said sometimes people may not be acting out of disrespect but just don't know proper flag etiquette.

"A lot of people today don't know much about the flag," he said. "And not just about retiring it, but also how to treat it in any kind of a ceremony. I've seen people looking around not knowing if they should salute, put their hand on their heart, or take off their cap."

Green said he thinks it's important for kids today to learn about the flag, because the stars and stripes are a symbol of freedom.

He added that anyone who has a flag they would like retired may take it to the VFW Post 1179 on Main Street, to a scout troop, or just to the post office.

"The people at the post office know to get the flags to me," Green said.

    Flag Info   • The 13 stripes stand for the original 13 colonies. • The 50 stars represent the 50 states.

• Legend has it that Elizabeth Griscom "Betsy" Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, at General Washington's request in June 1776, designed and made the U.S. flag, according to a drawing he gave her.

• For more information on the U.S. flag, visit www.usflag.org.