Flag retirement ceremony is patriotic event

Published 12:01 am Friday, May 24, 2019

By G. Mark LaFrancis

Special to The Democrat

NATCHEZ — The flags atop the flagpole outside VFW Post 9573 snapped in the wind.

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Below, a fire crackled in a large cauldron.

Feet quietly shuffled.

A bell rang.

It was the American Flag Retirement Ceremony Saturday morning May 18, a ceremony marked by reverent simplicity as individuals carried a neatly folded flag to be burned, signifying their flaming farewell. Each flag was embraced in the arms of the bearers: children and adults, scouts, veterans and civilians. Like soldiers whose lives have come to an end, the flags had served their owners eventually wearing thin, becoming tattered, yielding to the elements.

“For more than 200 years, the American Flag has been a symbol of strength and unity,” said Ricky Warren, Scoutmaster for Troop 168 in Natchez, who was the master of the ceremony. “It has been a source of pride and inspiration for millions of citizens. And the American Flag has been a prominent icon in the history of the United States.”

“When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country,” Warren said, “it should be destroyed by burning it in a dignified manner.”

Warren read an essay he titled, “This is our flag speaking to us,” which in part said, “Have you forgotten what I stand for? … When you see me, stand straight, place your right hand over your heart, and I’ll salute you by waving back. And I’ll know that you remembered me.”

American Flag retirements ceremonies are held frequently in the Miss-Lou, with this one that was held Saturday and scheduled prior to Memorial Day, which will be celebrated Monday. During the ceremony, a bell is rung as each flag is placed in the cauldron, and the audience offers each flag a firm salute.

For Barbara Winkworth of Natchez, Saturday was her first Retirement Ceremony.

“My heart swelled with pride when I saw the flags being handled with the utmost care and respect as they were retired from service,” Winkworth said. “The number of flags that had been surrendered for loving disposal encouraged me. Although we see so many disrespect the flag, I will always stand up, place my hand upon my heart and thank God that I live in a land that remembers those who lived, fought and died for the freedom of our citizens and carried that precious flag into every battle, fought to make sure that freedom remains forever in our land of liberty.”

Special Forces veteran Robert Foley said he too appreciated the ceremony.

It was a great ceremony,” Foley said. “I feel that it is important to us as Americans to pause and think about what our flag represents and those that fought and died to make us free.”

Approximately 100 flags were retired during Saturday’s ceremony, but Warren said many more need to be retired.

“We’ve been blessed because many in the Miss-Lou are giving us their flags or placing them in the retirement bins,” Warren said.

At the end of the ceremony, a stirring bugle rendition of “Taps,” was played by veteran Doug McCallister, who also provided the cauldron, a portable pot used solely to retire American flags.

Sponsors of the ceremony were: VFW Post 9573, the Home With Heroes Foundation, local Scout organizations, and the Natchez Freshman Academy Junior ROTC. The Natchez Fire Department provided standby safety.

After the ceremony, visitors were invited to tour the Home With Heroes Veterans Memorabilia Room upstairs at the VFW post.

Additional ceremonies are planned this year. Information can be obtained through the Home With Heroes web: www.homewithheroes.org or on social media Page: Home With Heroes.