By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
RAVENA — More than 100 flags were disposed of in a flag burning ceremony last Wednesday on the grounds of Ravena VFW Post 9594.
Now known as UNITAS Veterans Memorial Association, the organization’s Auxiliary hosted the community’s first public flag burning service to retire torn and tattered flags that are no longer serviceable.
“For flags that are tattered, the correct way to get rid of them is to burn them and after we burn them, we bury the ashes,” Auxiliary member Joseph Eissing said “That is the correct way to do it. The ashes will be burned on the grounds of the VFW Post.”
About 100 flags were collected and properly folded into triangles, then members of the local fire departments oversaw the burning in a special burn barrel.
This was the first time the Auxiliary hosted a public flag disposal ceremony, and the Auxiliary expects to make it an annual event, Eissing said.
Auxiliary President Mary Ellen Rosato said the UNITAS building is being renovated and there were many old, unserviceable flags that needed to be retired. More were collected from community members, she added.
“They are working on the Post and there were so many flags that needed to be disposed of, so we thought to do this as a community event with the kids and the firehouse,” Rosato said. “We are just trying to do things in the community to bring everyone together. It’s really wonderful — there are a lot of people here.”
Flags were collected with the help of Boy Scout Ryan Leonard, who is pursuing the vaunted Eagle Scout rank, the highest rank in scouting. Leonard collected about 60 of the 100 or so flags that were turned in for disposal.
For his Eagle Scout community service project, Leonard built flag-disposal boxes and posted them around the community.
“The project is to collect old and ripped up flags that aren’t able to be flown on a flag post anymore,” Leonard said. “We collected them so they are not just thrown away in the trash and today we are properly disposing of them. I had three temporary boxes — at the New Baltimore firehouse, the Coeymans Town Hall and the New Baltimore Town Hall — and then I built a permanent box here at the VFW and that will stay there forever so people can drop off their flags and the VFW will take care of them. I told Ravena and New Baltimore that if they need somebody to pick them up, I will pick them up.”
Leonard got the idea for the community service project because he had an unusable flag himself.
“I figured I would do something for the VFW and I thought about American flags because I had an old American flag that had to be disposed of, so I thought I would do that and see how many I got,” Leonard said. “I really appreciate everyone who donated the flags so we can retire them properly.”
Auxiliary member Lisa Foronda Schmitt said getting local children involved was important to the group.
“We were trying to think how we can get young people in our community involved in patriotic events so we reached out to the schools,” Schmitt said. “There is a Girl Scout group here, there’s a Boy Scout group, the seventh graders get extra credit if they attend, so it has become quite a nice community event.”
VFW Post 9594 Past Commander Trip Powell said there is a very specific ceremony to properly burn U.S. flags and this is the first time the local organization has done so in a public ceremony.
“The Post has always taken flags that people didn’t know what to do with and we would hold them and just have private ceremonies and burn them,” Powell said. “The VFW Auxiliary came up with this idea to do a public burning with a special incinerator unit and then they had the idea to bring on fire companies to join in. It was a really great idea and doing it the day before Veterans Day is touching.”