PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — It is the only time when burning an American flag is treated as a solemn occasion with reverence and respect.
Veterans gathered in the parking lot at American Legion Post 15 along Ohio Avenue on Sunday to retire over 300 used American flags. Some were burned as part of a ceremony to officially retire them while others were disassembled so together they no longer formed the symbol of the country.
Every year on Flag Day, the local American Legion Post and others across the nation hold similar ceremonies for the disposal of unserviceable flags. The practice was started with the passing of a resolution by the 19th National Convention of the American Legion in New York in September 1937 and the ceremony has been an integral part of American Legion ritual since then.
“This happens every Flag Day,” said Post 15 Vice Commander Bob Schoolcraft. “This is the only proper way to dispose of an American flag.
“We do this every year and it means a lot to the American people in honor of our flag.”
Schoolcraft reiterated that the freedom many Americans have is not free. It was paid for by someone giving their lives for the country.
“They made the sacrifice,” he said. “They fought for this country and for the American flag.
“That is the way it is now. They are still fighting for the American flag so we all can be free.”
During a flag retirement ceremony, a color guard, along with a sergeant at arms, will present a couple of the used flags to the first and second vice commanders for approval for disposal. The flags will then be presented to the post commander for approval to proceed. The color guard dips the flag in kerosene and drapes it over a rack over a lit fire pit where it will be consumed by fire.
“You go through that ceremony, it is something to watch,” Schoolcraft said.
Flags considered for retirement are usually faded and frayed, tattered and filthy, Post Commander Bill Shepherd said.
“They are no longer serviceable or able to be flown anywhere,” he said.
People are encouraged to drop off used flags to the American Legion so they can dispose of the flags properly. The flags are inspected to make sure they are ready for disposal.
“We accept flags all year long,” he said.
Shepherd said this ceremony is considered the proper way of disposing of a flag.
“It has become a tradition,” he said. “People have called this a ‘flag burning ceremony.’
“It is not. It is a flag retirement ceremony.”