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Cranberry woman committed to giving flags proper retirements

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
James Knox
Denise Etter with checks the retirement bin filled with flags Wednesday June 12, 2013 inside the Cranberry Municipal Center.
Bins like this have made it easy for people to retire old American Flags in a way they is respectful.

If “Old Glory” looked a bit weathered last week on Flag Day, there's a place for her to rest.

Since May 2011, Denise Etter of Cranberry Township has been caring for worn and tattered American flags that have seen better days. To date, more than 3,000 unserviceable flags have been collected.

“I get all different sizes,” she said. “Stick flags, outdoor house flags, military service flags and a good bit of 48-star flags. They're faded, discolored and ready to retire.”

Cranberry officials were the first to welcome Etter's new project by setting up a bin in the municipal building. Next to follow was the Erie Maritime Museum, Fairview Township in Erie and Upper St. Clair. The Green Tree Women's Civic Club sponsored a bin at the Green Tree Borough Building, and The Crafton Memorial Committee keeps one at the Crafton Borough Library.

The collected flags are retired during a special ceremony led by veterans groups or Scouts.

Cranberry's flags have been retired by Cub Scout Pack 406, The Cranberry Area Girl Scout Troop, Girl Scout Camp Redwing, VFW Post 879 of Cranberry and the American Legion. Some have been retired at Camp Agawam during the summer day camp for Scouts, Etter said.

Tabatha Mills, 40, of Harmony, leads Girl Scout Troop 20509 and is committee secretary for Boy Scout Troop 406. Mills finds the retirement ceremony emotional, and feels pride as the stripes of each flag are cut and burned.

“The girls from kindergarten to grade 4 don't grasp the full meaning,” she said. But having veterans present at a Cub Scout ceremony brought the significance home.

What would have been “We have a campfire. Where's the smores?” became something pretty serious as they watched the men in their service caps and sports coats.

The Boy Scouts usually retire collected flags near Veterans Day, while the Girl Scouts at Camp Redwing in Renfrew, Butler County, see the ceremony once a week during their summer activities. Later, ashes of the flags are buried at the camp.

“It's a humbling ceremony,” said Mills, who has reconnected with Scouting because of her son and daughter.

Etter's husband Daniel, an Army veteran, encouraged her to design a way for residents and merchants to dispose of flags that could no longer be used.

He has approached owners of tattered flags and explained how to respectfully retire them, finding that people didn't know how to properly dispose of a flag.

“I do believe he takes an extra measure of pride in me, given the special nature of this project and the fact that he served this country in the military,” she said.

When Etter began her campaign and flags started to fill the bin, some came with notes from owners explaining a flag's history. Some had thank-you notes to her, for making disposal so easy. She looks forward to expanding into other communities. Etter devotes time to her project every day.

“The success of the project takes the cooperation of many people at the location and the different service organizations,” she said.

Etter recommends that people educate themselves about flag history and etiquette.

“I think people always want to do the right thing when it comes to showing proper respect for the American flag,” she said.

Individuals, companies or municipalities interested in participating in the campaign can contact Etter through the website and/or the email address,

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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