Honorable Retirement

INDEPENDENCE -- Frayed ends. Sun bleached to the point where the red stripes appear pink.

INDEPENDENCE -- Frayed ends. Sun bleached to the point where the red stripes appear pink.

This particular flag in front of the Independence Rehabilitation Center off Monmouth Street has done its duty for about two years, but obviously has seen better days.

"We need to honor the country and you do that by the flag," said Douglas Birge, looking up from the base of the flag pole.

"But once it looks like that, you need to take it down," said Birge, an Army veteran from Monmouth and member of AMVETS Post 1776.

And it should be done with respect.

The center's flag and others were "retired" at a special ceremony on June 14 -- Flag Day. Boy Scout Troop 127 of West Salem handled the task of properly burning the flag and burying its ashes as 20 or so visitors and facility residents, many of them veterans, looked on.

"We have people here who served from the World War II era up through Vietnam," said Amy Anderson, a rehabilitation center official. "Though some are dealing with dementia or Alzheimer's, they still connect with something formal like this."

"It's emotional," said Jim Williams, 81. Williams is a Korean War veteran and a center resident.

Retiring a flag usually seems the stuff of patriotic groups and service organizations, said Steven Anderson, a Boy Scout district commissioner for Polk and Marion counties.

But anybody can retire a flag -- "it just needs to be done in a dignified manner," Anderson said.

"An individual can do this at their own home," he continued. "You could almost do it as a family activity."

The benchmark is when the flag is in such a condition that it's no longer fit for display.

For this event, there was a pledge of allegiance, a moment of silence and a bugle rendition of "Taps" before the scouts took the flag down.

Afterward, the retirement process is a common one. It was lowered over a fire pit by its four ends until flames had caught the center. As it burned, the ends were folded on top of the center of the fire.

"The key thing is that it should never touch the ground," Anderson said.

Center veterans handed the boys four more flags, folded military style. Those were burned, as well.

The ashes should not be simply thrown out, but buried in a "meaningful spot," Anderson said. In this case, they were buried at the base of the flag pole.

This was the first retirement ceremony for 12-year-old Hayden Shurtleff, a member of the scout troop.

"It makes you nervous," Shurtleff said. "I've done many flag ceremonies, but never a retirement ... it's special, though."


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