Putting flags to flame in disposal ceremony

Messenger photos by Kristy Zurbrick
Dave Cunningham (left), commander of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter 746, and Mike O’Reilly, leader of Boy Scout Troop 121 of West Jefferson, prepare to throw a large, folded American flag into the fire during the VVA’s annual flag disposal ceremony.

(Posted Oct. 25, 2021)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

It was a drizzly, overcast early afternoon, but the fire burned brightly at Amvets Post 19 at Madison Lake, London, on Oct. 24.

Jack Cunningham, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 746 (VVA), managed the fire, periodically tossing split wood into a halved fuel oil drum at the back of the Amvets property.

A pickup truck loaded with plastic storage bins sat a few steps from the fire. American flags and POW/MIA flags of all sizes–from handheld flags to a commercial flag measuring at least 10 feet across–filled the bins, but not for long.

Displaying the largest flag they received for disposal are: (at left, bottom to top) Linda Stier, president of the London American Legion Post 105 Auxiliary; Dave Cunningham, commander of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 746; and guest Randy Conley; (at right) Mike O’Reilly with Boy Scout Troop 121 of West Jefferson.

One by one and sometimes two by two, military veterans, Scout troop representatives, and supporters pulled armloads of flags from the bins and tossed them into the fire. It was part of VVA’s annual ceremony during which they dispose of faded and worn flags they’ve collected over the previous year.

“We get them from the (Madison County) Veterans Commission, West Jefferson VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), and American Legion in London,” said Dave Cunningham, VVA commander. “I also have individuals who drop flags off to me through the year.”

The U.S. Flag Code states that flags whose conditions make them unsuitable for display should be retired in a dignified way, preferably by burning. VVA 746 typically holds its flag disposal the fourth Sunday in October.

Layla Prokaski, 10, was the youngest person to take part in the flag disposal ceremony. She is a member of Girl Scout Troop 5925 of Grove City.

Before sending the flags into the flames, organizers hold a brief ceremony during which the flags are presented for inspection. Part of the sentiments read at the ceremony include the following:

“A flag may be a flimsy bit of printed gauze or a beautiful banner of finest silk. Its intrinsic value may be trifling or great, but its real value is beyond price, for it is a precious symbol of all that we and our comrades have worked for and lived for, and died for–a free nation of free men and women, true to the faith of the past, devoted to the ideals and practice of justice, freedom and democracy.”

Anyone is welcome to drop off faded or worn flags anytime of year at: the Veterans Commission office at the Madison County Court House, 1 N. Main St., London; American Legion Post 105, 51 E. First St., London; or Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7005, 56 N. Walnut St., West Jefferson.

Mike O’Reilly, leader of Boy Scout Troop 121 of West Jefferson, waits to throw another armload of faded and worn flags on the fire. O’Reilly participated in a flag disposal ceremony organized by Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 746 on Oct. 24 at Amvets Post 19 at Madison Lake.
Rich Coffmon, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 746, throws a worn flag on the fire during the chapter’s annual flag disposal ceremony on Oct. 24. The ceremony took place at Amvets Post 19 at Madison Lake.
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