Old glory retires in a blaze of glory

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Flames leaped into the air above two barrels outside Holy Spirit School in Annandale Nov. 8. Scouts, Knights of Columbus and service men and women lined up one after another each holding a tri-folded flag against their chest. One by one they approached the barrels and placed their flag on a shovel held by Ralph Rodriguez-Caraballo or Francisco Tavarez, who turned and respectfully placed the flags into the flames.

It was a flag-burning without the shouts of protesters but instead with bowed heads and the respect given the retirement of a patriotic symbol.

More than 300 flags, including 15 different state flags, were retired in a solemn ceremony conducted by the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus Msgr. Francis L. Bradican Assembly No. 2996 and the Boy Scouts. 

Knight Sam Morthland, faithful navigator, narrated the ceremony. He spoke of the apparent contradiction of burning a flag when burning usually represents defiance.

“However, tradition preserves a different significance in the case of our national banner. Incineration remains the traditional method of retiring our flag,” he said. “This does not mean simply lighting the flag on fire or tossing it into the flames. On the contrary, it means retirement with dignity and in a manner that pays tribute to the flag’s reflection of service to the nation and to its citizens.”

Most people never get to experience a flag retirement, but often they can in cojnunction with the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, said Morthland.

Last week’s ceremony included two traditions for the ceremonial incineration. One flag is partitioned into “constituent portions” and retired by each of the 14 segments to remind those in attendance of the specific symbolism of each element of the flag. 

A roll call for each stripe of the flag is conducted representing the original 13 colonies — Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island. 

The 14th segment, which is never cut as it represents the union of the 50 states, is the blue field with the stars. 

The remaining flags to be retired are folded into a triangle, such as when a flag is presented to the family of fallen service members, or in recognition of service. 

Throughout the transition of moving flags to the fire outside, members of the West Point Alumni Glee Club sang patriotic songs. 

After the roll call for each stripe, the Scouts and Heritage Girls presented the individual strips of the flag to be placed in the fire.

The other flag bearers folded their arms across their chests cradling the tri-folded flags. They held the flags by the corners as they placed them on the shovel before being placed in the flames. 

The ceremony also honored veterans, first responders and clergy for their service by presenting them with flags that had been flown at memorial or monument sites, such as the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md.

Brandy Florio, an American Heritage Girls troop leader whose husband is deployed, brought her children to the ceremony to teach them about the flag. 

“I have two little boys and I didn’t necessarily want them up late, but I do want them to see that our flag is important and why it is important,” Florio said. 

Ron Fauquet was at the ceremony with an American Heritage Girls troop. “I hope they learn a little more respect for the country and the flag,” he said. 

Father John M. O’Donohue, pastor, who served four years in the Marine Corps, led a prayer at the beginning and end of the ceremony. “It’s important to honor our flag and our nation and especially those who served and sacrificed for all the good things and blessings we have received,” he said. 

The ceremony was important to the principle of patriotism in the Fourth Degree Knights.

Participants were invited to sing “God Bless America” at the end of the ceremony. As the final flag was carried to retirement, a recording of taps was played. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

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