The military veterans of Post 105 had spent their best years doing hazardous jobs on behalf of their country, and now, on a windy blue morning, they did one more. A somber tune played on a portable stereo. Someone said a prayer. Then they lit the fires. Nearly 700 worn-out American flags had accumulated at their headquarters, deposited by various local patriots, and it was time for the quarterly cremation. “Hey, don’t burn the flag,” a passing driver said, not unreasonably, because once in a while the sacred resembles the profane. “It’s not burning,” said Robert Ladd, 74, a former lieutenant colonel in the Army. “It’s retiring.” The men retired the flags in four 55-gallon drums that emitted noxious black smoke and spilled black liquid on the gravel. Some members had stayed home to avoid the fumes of melting nylon. “Don’t breathe that smoke, gentlemen,” Ladd advised the troops. “Get upwind!” Larry Newsome, a former Air Force engine mechanic, recalled the time a confused bystander saw the flames of flag retirement reflected in the windows of the fire department across the street. “So he called the fire department and said, ‘I guess you know your fire department’s on fire.’” But it was only the flags, melting, smoking, disintegrating, rendered to the fire by the men who pledged their allegiance and carried them around the world and brought them home to cover their brothers’ coffins. “We’re kind of putting these flags to their eternal rest,” said David Niebes, former post commander, as smoke rose toward the clear blue sky.
This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.