For Old Glory
LEWISTOWN – The rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air gave proof to soldiers during the nights of the War of 1812 that the American flag still flew.
“Resolved, that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation,” reads the Flag Act, passed on June 14, 1777, by the Continental Congress.
Additions of stripes and stars and multiple re-designings of the American flag occurred until Aug. 21, 1959, with the executive order of President Eisenhower.
This order had the flag’s stars arranged in nine rows staggered horizontally and eleven rows staggered vertically.
“The flag has stars for the 50 states and also the stripes of the 13 colonies,” Ed Rozell, treasurer of the Juniata County Veterans Council Inc., said. “It’s a sacred, significant part of our culture here in the states.”
According to the USA Flag Site, the colors of the flag each have a meaning. White represents purity and innocence; red represents hardiness and valor; and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.
On Aug. 3, 1949, President Truman signed an Act of Congress to declare June 14 of each year as National Flag Day.
Further, Title 4 of the United States Code specifies rules for the display and care of the national symbol.
A few rules in Chapter 1 of Title 4 regarding flag care are: only fly the flag upside down as a distress signal; never use it as a drapery or for any decoration in general; never use it for advertising; it should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use; never use it for part of a costume; it should never have any marks drawn or placed on it; it should never be used for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything and, if flown for 24 hours a day, a light must be shone on it during dark hours.
Rozell said, “It’s against the law to make a hat or anything out of a flag. When a flag is made, it’s made for flying or draping over a coffin.”
Additionally, when the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object.
“Even in parades we can’t let any part of the flag touch the ground. When flying at half-(staff), for example, for the death of a president, we raise the flag to full-(staff) then drop it to half-(staff),” Rozell said.
When the flag is stored, it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously. Rozell said that each fold represents a certain aspect of the United States, some of which include paying a tribute towomanhood, the father, veterans, armed forces, our country and different religions and beliefs.
According to a document provided by Rozell about flag folding, “After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington and the sailors and marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today.”
If the flag ever becomes dirty, Title 4 states the flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.
Finally, when a flag is no longer in a shape to serve as a symbol for the country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.
Large flags on poles are not the only ones that need to see a proper retirement. Rozell said even the small flags on wooden sticks, for example, must be ceremoniously retired.
“In earlier times, most American flags were made of cotton or wool. But today’s flags are often nylon or other petroleum-based materials. Burning them can release hazardous gases, including formaldehydes, ammonia, carbon monoxide and traces of hydrogen cyanide into the air. In some states, it is even illegal to burn nylon, so adhering to the Flag Code puts you in direct violation of the law. Burning is preferred for cotton and wool flags. Nylon and flags made from other synthetics can be buried,” Rozell said.
Rozell said that if an individual has no means of depositing a tattered flag to a veteran or a drop box, a simple phone call to the Juniata County Veterans Council, a local VFW or a local American Legion can create arrangements for someone to come retrieve the flag for retirement.
“In Mifflintown, we use the old public mailboxes for flag drop offs. We painted them red, white and blue,” Rozell said.
Rozell said the Boy Scouts of America frequently become involved with flag retirement. They will go to cemetaries, remove old flags for retirement and replace them with new ones.
Eton Spancake, of Boy Scout Troop 65, has created a flag retiring pit in Juniata County for his Eagle Scout project.
In a previous Sentinel article, Spancake “explained that only the Boy Scouts or a veteran can dispose of the flag by properly folding it one last time, placing it in the fire and saluting it.”
Rozell clarified, “During the retirement ceremony, members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart at the moment the flag passes.”
The retiring pit, an eight-by-13-foot concrete pad, is located at the park in McAlisterville, along Route 35 across from Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Rozell said, “Just this past weekend the Boy Scouts had a flag burning ceremony. It’s just a sacred thing.”
“A lot of people have no place to put their flags,” Spancake said. “They just throw them away or leave them hanging torn on a flagpole.”
Flags ready to be retired may be dropped off at the flag drop box at the VFW in Mifflintown, or by contacting the Juniata County Veterans Council for additional drop off locations.
“It’s a symbol of the United States and should be treated as such,” Rozell said.