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Dignified disposal of flags respects country, memories

| Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011

For a year after 9/11, an American flag hung from the double-garage door of Nancy Jane and Alan Alvarez's Cincinnati, Ohio, home.

It was the same flag that had been in her father's casket at his funeral.

Her father, John Nemish of Donora, a Navy veteran, died in 1999. He served on the USS Algorma, a coal-fired Navy tugboat with wooden decks, in 1932.

"He was a boxer in the Navy," recalled his son-in-law, who with his wife now lives in Adams. "He was a tough little man."

Nemish's flag and more than 950 other flags, some of which belonged to veterans or adorned their headstones, now await proper disposal as part of the "Retire Old Glory" campaign at the Cranberry Municipal Building run by Denise Etter, 43, of Cranberry. As Veterans Day approaches, the flags bring back memories of loved ones who earned them by serving in uniform.

"I've touched every one of these flags and counted every one," Etter said. "There are a variety of colors here. There are some ripped and tattered ones where the stripes are coming apart from each other. Most of them are just frayed or have some wear from being hung."

The flags are big and small. Some look new. Others, though, have faded from deep navy to sky blue, and the red stripes have faded to pink or even orange.

Nancy Jane Alvarez, 68, attached a note to her father's weather-worn flag that her husband left at the municipal building in June. It identified the flag as his and expressed her thanks for a proper way to dispose of it.

"When they wear out, you don't know how to retire them gracefully and with dignity," she said. "What a gift it is that people have a resting place for their loved one's flag."

Kendra Folker's husband, John, served in the Navy at a weather station in Newfoundland during the Korean War. He flew the flag proudly in front of their home in Cranberry.

"He had a lot of respect for the flag," said Folker, 65. "It's a symbol of our liberty. It's a symbol of what we fought for and what we believe in. The flag is a very special symbol of America and what we believe in."

Folker died two years ago, and the responsibility of flying and caring for the family flag fell upon her. She flies the flag from May to Veterans Day and dropped off three flags at the Cranberry collection site.

Margie Schaefer of Cranberry dropped off a flag Thursday after she noticed Etter and the bags of flags in the municipal building. The flag belonged to her brother, Willis McClain, who was stationed in England during the Korean War. He died in 1998.

Another brother, Vance McClain, died in the Army shortly after World War II while serving in Italy. Other relatives, including her late husband and two children, served in the military, too.

Etter said the flags will be disposed of according to federal law. Under the flag code, flags unfit for display "should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

Schaefer likes the respect that will be paid her brother's flag.

"It will be burned with all of the other flags in a ceremony," she said. "If so, I would like to attend."

A date for the ceremony has not yet been set.

Etter added two collection sites in Erie County last week and is considering installing another two in the area.

"By the number of flags I feel we filled a need," said Etter, whose husband Daniel served as an Army scout in Bosnia. "Having everybody else just appreciate the project makes me feel good."

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