Some were faded, some were worn. Some were tattered, some were torn.
But each one of the 1,500 aging American flags slated for disposal had faithfully served its purpose — waving in local front yards or flying atop neighborhood flag poles — symbols of a nation born of a collective desire for justice, liberty and independence.
Monday morning, a modest gathering listened as VFW Post 97 Commander Wayne Wright recited from Ruth Apperson Rous’ poem, “I am the Flag.”
“My thirteen stripes alternating red and white, with a union of thirteen white stars in a field of blue, represented a new constellation, a new nation,” Wright read.
Greenlawn Southwest marked National Flag Day on Monday with a celebration of the importance and meaning of the Stars and Stripes, as well as a flag retirement ceremony.
Wright was joined by Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh and other local dignitaries to honor the history of the flag Americans sometimes refer to as “Old Glory.” An honor guard made up of members of the Sons of the American Revolution was there, as was the Bakersfield Young Marines.
Celebrated each year on June 14, Flag Day commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777 by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. But it wasn’t until 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson designated June 14 Flag Day. Another 30 years would pass before President Harry Truman signed a resolution making Flag Day a permanent observance.
Many Americans display the flag at their home or place of business. But sometimes faded or tattered flags are left up too long.
Greenlawn makes retiring one’s old flag easy and honorable. More than 3,000 old flags had been dropped off by area residents, and for the third consecutive year, Greenlawn offered its crematory at no cost to respectfully dispose of the aging banners.
“We take them any time of the year,” Greenlawn Manager Angie Milner said of the service.
According to the U.S. Flag Code, a national flag that is worn beyond repair may be burned in a fire. The ceremony should be conducted with dignity and respect and the flag burned completely to ashes.
But unlike the cotton and wool flags made in the early 20th century, many of today’s flags are made with petroleum-based materials such as nylon. Burning nylon can create hazardous gases and smoke.
For many years, VFW Post 97 provided the service at a small facility behind its building on South Union Avenue.
But the amount of labor and time it took to carefully dispose of so many flags began to be an issue. And burning in a neighborhood setting raised air quality concerns.
At Greenlawn, this year’s annual flag retirement will burn approximately 1,500 flags, about 100 more than last year, Milner said. All efforts are taken to show respect for the flags and the nation it represents.
Indeed, on Monday, each of the flags was painstakingly folded into the traditional triangular shape and packed carefully in long cardboard boxes.
This year, the flags filled four of those boxes. Each flag represented a country made up of a people.
“As you see me silhouetted against the peaceful skies of my country,” Wright recited. “Remind yourself that I am the flag of your country, that I stand for what you are — no more, no less.”
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.
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