Flag Day ceremony to retire old flags, remind of etiquette

By Josette Keelor

The American flag gets a lot of use during the summer and can suffer damage over time. Area organizations recommend proper disposal of flags that have served their country well.

Planning a ceremony for 4 p.m. Saturday, Mitchell Rubenstein, junior vice commander of the VFW Post 2447 in Edinburg, said local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War posts accept flags throughout the year.

“Anybody can drop off their flag at any time,” he said. “We will dispose of it in a proper way.”

He estimates the Edinburg post at 100 Veterans Way, Edinburg, has collected close to 200 flags, most of which will be burned throughout the week.

Flag Day, which President Wilson proclaimed a nationwide observance in 1916 and President Truman signed as National Flag Day through an Act of Congress in 1949, is one of several U.S. holidays meriting the flying of the American flag, including Independence Day and Labor Day. The date commemorates Congress’ adoption of the official U.S. flag on June 14, 1777, according to the website www.nationalflagday.com.

Rubenstein said Americans should fly the flag at half staff on Flag Day.

Displayed horizontally or vertically, a flag should show the union of stars in the top left hand corner. It’s part of flag etiquette, the website www.usflag.org explains.

Raise a flag briskly and lower it slowly and ceremoniously, between sunrise and sunset. A flag may be displayed at night if illuminated, and should not be displayed in the rain.

Upside down, the flag is a signal of distress, the site says.

Perhaps the rule most flouted is not using the flag’s image as a decoration, and Rubenstein offered his own interpretation.

“I am a true patriot,” he said. “I wear a flag that looks like a shirt because that’s who I am.”

“[But] a real flag should be displayed the right way,” he said.

A flag should be clean and undamaged, said Dennis Palmer, a member of American Legion Post 77 of Strasburg.

“When a flag gets ripped, shredded or faded, it should be taken down,” he said. “You’re not supposed to let anything up there that looks bad representing your country.”

Burning is the proper way of disposing of damaged flags, and he said there’s a certain procedure to follow.

“You’re not supposed to burn them, just throw them into a stove or something, no ma’am.”

Fold the flag in its customary manner, the VFW site says, and make sure the fire is large enough and sufficient in intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag. Following local/state fire codes or ordinances, extinguish the fire safely and bury the ashes.

Damaged flags should be burned by an organization that will properly dispose of it, Palmer said. About twice a year, his post holds a flag burning ceremony. This week’s was rained out, and the next is planned for the fall.

For more guidelines on displaying an American flag, visit www.usflag.org.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com