Girl Scouts send U.S. flag into retirement

PRESENTING THE FLAG. Troop 1083 displays the flag one final time before retiring it while a fire burns nearby. A retired flag is traditionally cut in strips and burned.

Cassie Probst

PRESENTING THE FLAG. Troop 1083 displays the flag one final time before retiring it while a fire burns nearby. A retired flag is traditionally cut in strips and burned.

Girl Scout Troop 1083 recently performed a Flag Retirement Ceremony at the First Christian Church. Troop leader Cassie Franklin worked with the scouts through their long-awaited ceremony.

“This was a first,” she said. “We planned this for 2019, but COVID set us back.”

Retiring a flag refers to the proper way to destroy a flag that has become old and broken after it has served its time. The ceremony requires some specific steps to accomplish this goal.

“Pay your last respects one last time by saluting when cutting the stripes one by one and laying them on the fire until they burn out, then laying the stars until they are completely ash,” Franklin said.

Ben Wells, the Master of Ceremonies, felt the ceremony symbolized much more than just burning the flag.

“Today, we are not burning a flag, we are retiring a symbol of America’s honor, courage and strength,” Wells said.

There aren’t any special qualifications nor exact number of people necessary to retire a flag; anyone who has a flag in need of retirement may do so if they choose.

“Each individual can retire their own flag at their own time with their own respects,” Franklin said.

Troop 1083 had to complete a lot of preparations before the time of the flag ceremony. Each scout, veteran, ROTC member and speaker had a role to play.

“Lots of research and practice [needed to be done before the ceremony],” Franklin said. “We started about 2 months ago.”

On top of research and practice, Troop 1083 have also found flags in need of retirement and made it part of their mission to inform others.

“Our girls have been involved in painting barrels and placing them around our beautiful town for future flags that need to be retired,” Franklin said.

To Franklin, the flag ceremony holds a special significance. The flag represents a friend given their final respects.

“The ceremony was like a funeral for an old friend, someone you know has always been there, someone you have the utmost respect for,” Franklin said.

One of the scouts, a 6th grade student and cadet from Troop 1083, Holly Franklin, learned a lot from helping to carry out the flag ceremony.

“[The ceremony means] to give the flag and people who gave their life for the flag thanks and honor,” Holly Franklin said.

While preparing for the ceremony, the scouts had their own research to do: interviewing veterans and active military personnel to find out what the flag means to them.

“I have learned of their sacrifices and the love people hold for America,” Holly Franklin said. “When our flag is old and ready to retire, we can give thanks and honor it.”

The scouts had to complete more than just research; they had to take steps before the flag ceremony to understand their role in the ceremony. Each scout had an important job, and they needed to practice.

“I held the flag with Emily [Lawson] for it to be properly cut,” Holly Franklin said. “We practiced folding and unfolding the flag, too.”

Another scout, Aleah Tyree, learned more about the many misconceptions surrounding burning the flag.

“I learned that burning the flag is not disrespectful,” Tyree said. “I’m thankful my family came to support me and the DB ROTC.”

Wells spoke during the ceremony to explain what events were occurring and why. This included explaining in more depth ways of retiring a flag.

“There are two methods of retirement: burial or flame,” Wells said. “Burning the flag does not mean that one should simply drop the entire flag [intact] into a fire.”

Harper Curtis also learned about some of the values. To her, the flag represents freedom and shouldn’t just be thrown out.

“I learned that we don’t throw a flag in the trash,” Curtis said.

Scout Elainea Wells found the flag represented multiple things to her: love, freedom and sacrifice. The flag ceremony meant more than just a troop obligation.

“It made me feel like we are a family of proud women and not just a Girl Scout troop,” Elaina Wells said. “It made me proud, because we returned a favor to someone who fought.”