Murrysville veterans, Boy Scouts team up to retire old flags

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 8:57 a.m.

The flag means something to Vietnam War veteran Jerry Deible of Murrysville.

Deible has spent the last 14 or so springs planting small American flags on the graves of Murrysville veterans and has seen those same flags fade and rot in the sunshine and stormy weather. He cringes when he sees an old flag with torn edges fly well past its glory days, and so does his fellow members of the American Legion.

So American Legion Post 711 reached out to the Boy Scouts of Troop 205 to properly dispose of flags with the honor, integrity and ceremony that they feel the flag deserves.

Deible contacted the Murrysville-based troop earlier this year. Between the Scouts and the Legion's members, about 400 well-worn flags were collected to be retired. Flags were gathered at community days, and the Legion advertised its effort to collect worn-out flags. They also handed out flag etiquette brochures.

The ceremony they will use is a mash-up of ceremonies other Scout troops have used.

“It's very brief, but it's nice,” Deible said. “It's a combination of two or three ceremonies. It's going to be a very nice program for the Legion guys and anyone else who wants to come.”

Troop 205 learned the procedure at an event in October where all those flags were to be retired, but Hurricane Sandy rained it out. With Thanksgiving and the holidays mudding schedules, Deible decided to wait until spring to hold the ceremony, which he hopes becomes an annual event.

“I was, frankly, surprised at the enthusiasm and the respect these kids showed. That sort of stuff isn't fashionable anymore,” Deible said. “Even the parents have been very enthusiastic and supportive. It's really been a gratifying experience.”

The Boy Scouts traditionally have been given the task to retire flags, and there is a definite way to do it right. The stripes of the flag are separated and there's a proper way to cut through the blue star field. Then all the pieces are fed individually into a fire.

“Everything they do has a meaning,” said Legion Commander Bill Kratzenberg, who spoke to the scouts in October about the flag retirement. “Even to the point of cutting the flags for the actual retirement.”

Four different kinds of wood — redwood, oak, cedar and walnut – are used, each representing a virtue of the American spirit. A flag needs be retired when the colors fade or the cloth becomes tattered and torn.

People with flags that should be retired can call Kratzenberg at 724-327-2357 to arrange for drop-off.

Bob Pajich is a freelance writer.

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