Flag Day rite: Putting Old Glory to rest

  • Al Delsid, incoming commander of the Healdsburg Sons of the American Legion Squadron 111, prepares to retire a worn American flag by burning it, during a ceremony at the Windsor Fire Department on Windsor Road, Tuesday June 14, 2011. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2011

Gerrit Swam grabbed a handful of Old Glory Tuesday, pulled it over a raging fire and stepped back as it burst into flames.

The 14-year-old Santa Rosa Boy Scout wasn't protesting anything. He wasn't trying to desecrate the American flag.

He and other scouts were practicing the time-honored tradition of "retiring" worn or tattered flags in what has been deemed the most dignified way possible.

Retiring American Flags In Windsor


"The flames push the flag up," Swam said after torching the faded four-by-eight-foot banner in a pit of burning cord wood. "It's hard to get the flag in it."

Scouts and organizers from the Sons of the American Legion in Healdsburg had their work cut out for them in the special ceremony behind Windsor Fire Station No. 2.

More than 200 flags collected over the past few years from residents, business owners and government officials awaited destruction.

They were piled high on a long table as firefighters stoked a metal burn pit with pieces of oak. Scouts unfolded the flags and, holding them by the both ends, walked them one by one over the flames, tossing them in.

They snapped to attention along with firefighters and legion members until each banner was no longer recognizable.

Cotton flags went quickly and cleanly. Those made of synthetic material sent up plumes of thick black smoke.

"We ask them to contemplate the meaning of flag during the salute," said Mike Polkinghorn, scout master for Troop No. 134 in northern Santa Rosa.

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