Hundreds of U.S. flags retired in ceremonial burning

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Chief Kevin Phillips from the Ravena Fire Department places U.S. flags into a ceremonial fire to retire them. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

RAVENA — Hundreds of U.S. flags were burned in a ceremonial retirement service outside VFW Post 9594 on Wednesday.

The VFW Post and its auxiliary co-hosted the ceremony to put to rest old and tattered flags that are no longer serviceable.

“They are retired because of the condition of the material of the flag. It should be brand new,” said Commander Mike Kindlon of VFW Post 9594. “Even if you fly the flag at home, you have to take the same care and respect that would be done at an official building. It’s a responsibility of owning the flag. It’s a symbol of our great nation and if we treat it as such, I think it brings us together as a community.”

Veterans, community members, Scout troops and the Honor Society from RCS High School joined with the Ravena and Coeymans fire companies to properly dispose of the flags.

“The Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and members of the community will fold the flags, they will hand them to us and we will set them on fire to be retired,” firefighter Tyler Searles with the Ravena Fire Department said.

Tyler Searles from the Ravena Fire Department with a handful of flags that were ceremonially burned in a service outside VFW Post 9594. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

After Kindlon explained to the crowd the purpose and process of properly retiring a worn flag, children lined up for a civics lesson on how to properly fold the flag. Then everyone recited the Pledge of Allegiance and handed the folded flags to members of the two fire departments who, wearing appropriate fire gear, placed the flags onto a fire.

Firefighter Connor Dottino with the Coeymans Volunteer Fire Company helped perform the ceremony in 2021 and again this year.

“It’s nice to show that the community still appreciates patriotism and respects the flag,” Dottino said.

VFW Post 9594 Commander Mike Kindlon holds up a tattered U.S. flag and explains the proper way to retire it. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

“Normally when you retire a flag, you can ceremonially burn it unfolded — it’s OK to do that,” Kindlon said. “But we fold them to teach the kids and the community the proper way to fold a flag so that way, they get the best of both worlds. They get the retirement ceremony and they learn how to fold a flag. And they learn that a flag is not just a piece of cloth — it is a symbol of freedom, it is something that should be important and should be passed from generation to generation. So we take the opportunity to involve the community and teach the children the proper way to have the ceremony.”

The proper disposal of a U.S. flag is outline under federal law in U.S. Code 4, he added.

A flag burns during the ceremony. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

The VFW and auxiliary teamed up to hold a similar ceremony last year. This year, there were about 300 flags awaiting retirement.

“If you don’t keep this going, the kids will lose the procedure and what the flag means,” VFW Post 9594 Auxiliary President Joseph Eissing said. “You see too much negativity on TV with the burning of flags and they see that and don’t understand what the flag stands for, but all these men and women have fought overseas and they deserve the respect for the flag.”

Town Supervisor George McHugh, a U.S. Army veteran and VFW member, said it was good to see young people learn the proper procedure for disposal of a worn flag.

“As a veteran it does my heart good to hold these ceremonies and have the community come out and show the respect and dignity to the flag retirement that it deserves,” McHugh said. “What really does my heart good is to see the young children. They are not going to understand these traditions and values if not for these types of ceremonies.”

Auxiliary member Cindy Rowzee said coming from a military family, the flag has special meaning for her.

“I remember when I was a kid, my dad was in the military and every day at 5 o’clock, the national anthem would play and you would stop whatever you were doing and face towards the closest flag,” Rowzee said. “It’s a wonderful symbol of our country.”

Girl Scouts practice the proper folding of a U.S. flag at the start of the ceremony. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

For Village Ambassador Rebecca Shook, the ceremony is a way to show appreciation to veterans for their service.

“I think it’s a special way to say ‘thank you’ to all of our brothers and sisters at arms who managed to sacrifice their very own lives not only to save our home, but our country as well,” Shook said.

Boy Scout Jimmy Carkner from Troop 1071 in Delmar learns how to fold a flag as VFW Post 9594 Auxiliary President Joseph Eissing, center, and other Scouts look on. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media
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