Stars and Stripes Forever

INDEPENDENCE -- The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was founded just a few years after the Civil War, when the United States was almost separated and flew not one but two flags.The Boy Scouts of America received its charter from Congress in 1916, the year President Woodrow Wilson declared a national Flag Day. Photo by Pete Strong Boy Scout Jake Luty carries a 48 star U.S. flag past a pile of flags ready to be retired during the procession of previous flags. Perhaps it was fate that drew these two organizations and their shared reverence of the American flag together so closely.The Elks have a long-standing tradition of supporting all incarnations of the flag throughout its history.In 1908, the grand lodge in Dallas, Texas, mandated that all lodges observe Flag Day on June 14. The Elks were instrumental in prompting President Wilson to declare June 14 as national Flag Day.Every Boy Scout uniform comes embroidered with a flag patch. The Boy Scouts are one of the few groups charged with the capacity to retire American flags by burning.In a solemn and dignified ceremony Friday, Elks Lodge 1950 and Boy Scout Troop 38 demonstrated those traditions.Tom Sagers, exalted ruler of Lodge 1950, and nine scouts presented an oral and visual history of the American flag.From the Pine Tree Flag of 1775 through the current Stars and Stripes, every flag that has flown as a symbol of the United States was recognized."We have three symbols on our altar, the flag being the cornerstone," Sagers said. "The Elks are one of the few organizations left that are totally American. We don't have any overseas affiliates."Almost every elementary school student knows of Betsy Ross and the original design, but how many know of the Southern Colonies flying the snake flag, emblazoned with the assertion "Don't Tread On Me"?The Elks have linked their destiny with the United States, using the flag as a representation of their commitment to country and fellow man."Hopefully, it shows that the Elks are a fraternal organization that does believe in God, that does believe in patriotism," Sagers said. "And that the flag is not just a cloth hanging from a stick. It does have meaning."Paul Evans, former mayor of Monmouth and an Elks member since 2007, charged those in attendance to remember the importance of the flag and what it has meant to those who have carried it into war. Photo by Pete Strong Elks member and former Monmouth mayor Paul Evans spoke about the significance of the flag and its different meanings during a ceremony preceeding the retirement of approximately 40 flags Friday. "We are forever tied into this struggle for life versus liberty, it goes back to our core," Evans said. "I would suggest that the tension between the two actually gives us hope of being the kind of country that generally finds our way."A commissioned officer in the United States Air Force since 1993, Evans has carried the flag into war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though he disagrees with those that burn the flag in protest, he is fully aware of and defends their right to do it.Evans sees the flag as the most cherished thing a free society could hand over to the next generation, not because of itself but the symbolism behind it."You have X number of days left, X number of heartbeats left," Evans said. "The defining question is what are you going to do to make sure that the flag is handed over in better shape to the next generation than you found it?"After the celebration of the flag, Troop 38 took approximately 40 flags outside to be retired. The flags had been collected from Elks members, area residents and businesses. One flag had been draped over a casket during a veteran's funeral. Photo by Pete Strong Harrison Eberly, right, and Jake Luty (holding left side of flag) retire a U.S. flag that was no longer fit to fly. Troop Leader Steve Moser has brought his scouts to retire flags at the Elks' Flag Day ceremony so many times he can't remember when they first started doing it.Part of being a scout is knowing how to appropriately handle the flag. Scouts routinely act as a color guard for various events, help set up flags for Memorial Day and perform flag retirement ceremonies."We talk about that a lot so we do this respectfully. We talk about the proper way," Moser said. "Once the ashes have cooled off, we take and dispose of the ashes by burying them in an appropriate place."The scouts take the grommets from the flags and distribute them to area veterans to keep.Some of Moser's scouts took part in their first Flag Day ceremony with the Elks but were well acquainted with the process through many rehearsals.There are many holidays where the American flag plays a vital role, but only Flag Day celebrates the symbolism and history of the flag.Over 235 years since the first embodiment of the flag flew over the continental army, Americans still see the values and principles represented by the 13 alternating red and white stripes and the sea of blue filled with white stars."This symbol, this piece of cloth, stands for guaranteed opportunity," Evans said.


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