'Old Glory' retirement ceremony Saturday at National Guard Armory

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Boy Scouts burning the American flag? You bet.
   However, this is not a Vietnam-era protest. It's all part of a flag retirement ceremony to be held Saturday at the National Guard Armory on the Bluff City Highway in Bristol.
   Saturday is Flag Day, and everyone is invited to come and pay their respect to the flag and to bring with them any tattered versions they may have so they can be disposed of with dignity. Rolling Thunder will be riding in with POW/MIA flags, and guest prisoner-of-war survivors will be asked to participate in the POW flag disposal.
   The event is being hosted by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Unit 623, assisted by the men of the chapter, Marine Corps Lima 3/24 Honor Guard, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and Boy Scout Troop #3, Bristol.
   The ceremony will be held at the top of a grassy knoll within the fenced area of the National Guard Armory. Guard vehicles will be on display to the public and the fenced-in area will be open for public parking. The auxiliary will have patriotic sun visors and paper fans available for a donation.
   Barbara Murphy, wife of Michael "Doc" Murphy, state commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, is a member of the Ladies Auxiliary and one of the members helping coordinate the event.
   Mrs. Murphy said the Scouts have been assisting in preparing hundreds of flags collected for disposal.
   "They did not know how to do the kind of disposal we are partial to ... cutting and then burning," she said. "The American Legion always burns flags whole, which to me, having grown up in the era of protests, is a sign of disrespect.
   "As a Girl Scout, I was taught the method of cutting the flag and saying what the parts of the flag represent, or repeating patriotic lines as each portion of the flag is burned. According to the Flag Code, the only requirement is that it be done respectfully, preferably by burning and/or burial.
   "When the Boy Scouts tried having a flag retirement ceremony, they used the 'burn the flag whole' method and the corners of the flag laid on the ground and didn't burn completely. One of the reasons for cutting the flag is to ensure it burns completely and never touches the ground," Mrs. Murphy said.
   The auxiliary chose to use the five-cut method, which is approved by the Boy Scout Council of America because they had collected so many flags. The boys have been pre-cutting the flags using the method demonstrated by Murphy and Dawn Brooks, Patriotic Committee chairman and instructor for the auxiliary.
   "As each section is cut, it is handled very respectfully and folded in a particular manner. Each section is kept separate, so as our Purple Hearters put the sections on a bed of red hot coals, they will speak about how those that have fought under our flag feel about its significance. When there is nothing left but ashes and grommets, we will bury the ashes there at the National Guard Armory and hand out the grommets to the participating Scouts as souvenirs," Murphy said. Some consider the grommets good luck.
   "Out of respect for the flag, the fire should not be used for anything else prior to or after the burning of the flag material, and there should not be pictures taken of either the cutting or burning of any part of the flag," she said. While this is not a requirement, it helps maintain the solemnity of the service and preserves dignity.
   The flag that the Scouts will present whole for inspection and then cut for the first burning is a flag that flew over the United States Capitol in 1994, according to Murphy, and is well worn.
   Former POWs will be asked to assist in disposal of POW/MIA flags, and will recite the name of a fallen comrade as they commit the flag to the flames. Some Tennessee state flags will be retired as well, and politicians in attendance will be asked to help retire those.
   "Of course, we will have patriotic singing to get people in the mood," Murphy said. "There have just been so many flags collected and never properly disposed of that there are several hundred that need to be taken care of this year.
   "Maybe next year we can do the cutting apart of each stripe and have the Boy Scouts take a more active role. It would really help enrich the knowledge of this generation of young people, and no doubt they will remember how it is done and carry the tradition forward to the future generations.
   "That's our main goal -- to keep the focus on why our forefathers adopted this resolution for a united flag on June 14, 1777, and what it has meant in the history of our great country," she said.