WEST SPRINGS — Stripe by stripe and then, with a kiss for each one, field of stars by field of stars, some tattered and torn, faded and worn flags ended their years of service in the flames of an American Flag Retirement Ceremony.
On Saturday, May 20, Trail Life USA Troop SC-0332 and the West Springs Community Center conducted an American Flag Retirement Ceremony at the West Springs Ballpark.
The ceremony demonstrated the proper method for retiring Old Glory when it is no longer in any condition to be displayed publicly. The public was invited to not only attend the ceremony, but also turn in any American Flags they had that were too faded and/or torn to be flown to also be retired during the ceremony.
Juanita McCullough of Trail Life USA Troop SC-0332 served as narrator for the ceremony, opening it with the history of the American Flag.
“On June 14, 1777, Congress passed an act stating ‘that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, that the union be thirteen stars, white on blue field representing a new constellation.’ Our country had many flags before, and the flag has undergone many changes in the 200 plus years since, but it is, has, and has always been carried with pride by Americans wherever they went.
“From the day the first colonists planted a flag to establish a foothold on the edge of the New World, until the American spirit of ‘Manifest Destiny’ drew the pioneers to the shores of the Pacific, ‘Old Glory’ proudly led people across America. Although Congress did not formally establish rules for the proper display of the national flag until 1942, I cannot help but believe that our pioneer forefathers reverently cared for their country’s flag. I would like to hope that as we pay our final respects to this/these flags this evening, that we might be continuing a tradition begun around a campfire somewhere out West many years ago.”
Raising The Colors
The next part of the ceremony involved brothers Kevin and Devin Sprouse of Trail Life USA Troop SC-0332 acting as Color Guard, raising for one last time a tattered and torn American Flag to its place of honor atop the ball field’s flagpole.
Resuming her narration, McCullough reminded those attending the ceremony of the significance of the colors of the American Flag.
“Remember as you look at your flag that its colors hold special significance. The red stripes represent the human sacrifices made to secure and preserve liberty. The white stripes were described by George Washington as a symbol of this liberty that we are a land of the free. The blue field stands for the true blue loyalty of the defenders of our country and the stars are symbols of the unity of our people and the hope for the future.”
“America The Beautiful”
McCullough then called on those attending the ceremony to honor the flag by joining in the singing of “America the Beautiful.”
The Flag Speaks
After the singing of the song, McCullough, speaking as the American Flag, told its story.
I am your flag. I appear in many places. I have taken many forms and been called many names. I was authorized by Congress in 1818 in the form you now see and have remained unchanged except to add a new star each July 4th after a new state joined the union until I reached my present number of 50.
Trailmen are some of my favorite people. I listen to your patriotic songs. I’m there at your flag ceremonies, and I appreciate the tender care you give me. I feel the love when you say your pledge. I notice that your hand covers your heart when I am on parade, and I ripple with pleasure when I see it.
Now I am tired, and it’s time for me to rest in the sacred flames of your campfire. To set my spirit loose, first cut the field away from my stripes. Cut each of my 13 stripes and lay them on the fire, one at a time. As you do this think about the 13 original colonies and the pioneers who carved a nation out of a wilderness. They risked everything to fight for the independence which we enjoy.
As you cut me apart and watch me burn do not be sad or feel sorry for me. I have had the great honor of being your flag of the United States of America and the Republic for which I stand, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
When my stripes are gone, kiss the blue field and lay it across the fire. Then stand silently as you watch each star twinkle and fade into ashes.
Retiring The Colors
Next, the Color Guard retired the colors, lowering for the last time the American Flag they’d raised moments before.
After the flag was lowered, the Sprouse brothers, along with with fellow Trail Life USA Troop SC-0332 members Tre Smith, Sam Murphy and Noah Ketterman held it as McCullough cut away the field from the stripes. McCullough then handed the field to Ketterman who held it until it was time for it to be placed in the flames. She then cut out each of the stripes, handing each one of them to other participants in the ceremony, each of whom spoke about the state their stripe represented.
Honoring The 13 Original Colonies
Each stripe represents one of the 13 Original Colonies that subsequently became the Original 13 States of the United States of America. They are, in order of their joining the Union, represented by the 13 stripes on the American Flag.
Delaware became the first state to join the Union on December 7, 1787. It was the first to earn a star on the flag.
Admitted on December 12, 1787, this state was home to the first capital of our nation, Philadelphia. As the country grew South and westward, the capital moved to a more central location, Washington, DC, where it remains.
3. New Jersey
Admitted on December 18, 1787, New Jersey’s location between New York City and Philadelphia made it a major battle ground in the Revolution.
Admitted on January 2, 1788, Georgia was the largest of the 13 original colonies.
Admitted on January 9, 1788, frontiersmen were drawn there by the fertile soils and rich fur trade. As furs became scarce people continued West.
Massachusetts was admitted on February 6, 1788. It was first settled by the Pilgrims and laid the foundation for freedom of religion in America.
During the War of 1812, the flag flying during the defense of Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner: our national anthem. Maryland was admitted to the Union on April 28, 1788.
8. South Carolina
Admitted on May 23, 1788, South Carolina claims King’s Mountain as the victory leading to a string of victories in defeating the British.
9. New Hampshire
Admitted on June 21, 1788, New Hampshire was home to a great statesman, Daniel Webster. It also had maple syrup from its trees which became a staple for settlers headed west.
Admitted on June 25, 1788, Virginia has the site of the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown.
11. New York
Thanks to vigilant New Yorkers, invaders during the French and Indian War were repelled and settlers were able to move into the great lakes region. New York was admitted to the Union on July 26, 1788.
12. North Carolina
Admitted to the Union on November 21, 1789, North Carolina was the first colony to instruct its delegates at the Continental Congress to vote for independence.
13. Rhode Island
Admitted on May 29, 1790, this, the smallest of the 50 states, was the last of the 13 Original Colonies to become a state, and thus the final stripe on the flag.
After speaking about the state the stripe they held represented, the participants in the ceremony placed the stripe on the fire.
One Nation Under GOD
McCullough then resumed her narration, this time speaking about the meaning of the 50 stars on the field of the American Flag.
“The constellation of stars in America’s flag has grown from 13 to 50, but we are not a country of many pieces. We are one people, united as one nation under GOD, indivisible. Let us all join hands in silence to celebrate the unity and strength of this great land.”
With that, Ketterman, who had been holding the field with the constellation of 50 stars since it was cut from the flag, kissed it and placed it on the fire that had consumed the stripes, allowing it to be consumed as well.
In addition to the flag that had been raised, lowered, cut and placed on the fire, there were other flags, already cut, to be disposed of as well. All those attending the ceremony were invited to come up and place, first, stripes, and then fields on the fire.
McCullough then spoke again as narrator, saying about the flags being consumed by the flames, “Old Glory, you have served us long and well. Let us salute you one final time by singing together The Star Spangled Banner.”
After the singing of the National Anthem, the Voice of the Flag, now speaking at a distance, was heard one last time.
Now I am just a memory, but if there was a tear in your eye, or a lump in your throat, if you felt a shiver in your spine as you watched me burn, then I will be back the next time you need me and my colors will be fresh and bright and my edges won’t be ragged anymore. When I climb to the top of the flagpole, I’ll wave at you and remember the love and respect that you showed me here tonight.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.