Boy Scouts conduct flag retirement ceremony
June 23, 2011
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (June 23, 2011) - At Camp Meade RV Park, five Boy Scouts from Fort Meade Troop 379 retired 13 flags into the flames during an hourlong ceremony June 14.
The young Scouts stood in a pavilion tearing the worn flags into three sections and separated them by color.
"The flag ceases to be a flag when it is cut to pieces," said Boy Scout Michael Mahoney, 12. "We cut the flag to pieces, we leave the blue intact because no one should let the union be broken."
Seven flags were stripped down, while six, including two miniature flags, were lowered into the fire whole.
Federal Public Law 94-344, or the Flag Code, states: "When [the flag] is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, [it] should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."
Flags that are worn, torn, faded or badly soiled should be retired, said Boy Scout Caleb Bryant, 13.
"The U.S. flag should be treated with respect when it's flying," Michael said at the ceremony. "It should be treated with respect when it's retired."
Caleb and Michael, along with fellow Boy Scout Jacob Elmore, 15, led the retirement ceremony. The young Scouts explained the symbolism and importance of the American flag as each color was lowered into the flames one-by-one with a salute from every Scout.
"The red stripes remind us of the life blood of brave men and women who are ready to die for this country," Michael said.
"The white stripes remind us of purity and cleanliness of purpose, thought, word and deed," Caleb said.
After the white stripes were ignited, Scouts began to burn the blue and stars together.
"The blue is for truth and justice, like the eternal blue of the star-filled heavens," Michael explained.
The stars represent the 50 states of the union, Jacob said.
As the fire continued to burn, participants and guests were asked to leave the ceremony in silence. After the fire burned out on its own, the ashes were to be buried.
The event has not yet become an annual tradition because the troop can go for years without individuals donating flags, said Scoutmaster Wendall Lawrence. The troop's last flag retirement ceremony was six years ago.
"Over the last year, five or six individuals have given us flags so we had enough to do one," Lawrence said.
Seven flags were donated at the last moment for the June 14 ceremony.
Among those who attended was Sgt. 1st Class James Shaw, of the Baltimore Recruiting Battalion, who said the ceremony serves as a "good teaching tool" for children.
"It's the first time I've ever been to something like this," Shaw said. "I think it's a great learning experience for the kids because the only thing some of the kids know is that you don't let it touch the ground or it's illegal to burn."
His three daughters -- Jaylin, 5, Ganiya, 7, and Jazmen, 10 -- participated in the ceremony. The younger two are Scouts.
"I enjoyed this," Shaw said.
Several of the Boy Scouts said they felt a sense of duty while performing the retirement tasks.
"It made me feel like I was accomplishing something more than just coming out here and retiring some flags," Jacob said. "It made me feel as if I was doing my duty to this country."