Black smoke billowed from three fires, flames fed by a steady supply of American flags.
The Stars and Stripes headed for incineration were torn, tattered, and faded — their fate a fitting tribute to the patriotic symbols.
Dozens of youths, including members of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps and Young Marines, participated Sunday in a flag-retirement ceremony in which about 2,500 worn American flags were incinerated according to federal flag codes.
The Operation Respect event at the Navy Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Perrysburg Township concluded an annual effort to collect and dispose of faded and unserviceable flags.
“I’m just glad that there are people who are properly respecting the flag and taking care of them as best they can,” said Derek Brauer, 16, a Sea Cadet and a junior at Sylvania Southview High School.
He was among the boys and girls who lent a hand Sunday at the event, which began with a prayer and a ceremony to declare the flags unserviceable. Two groups first passed scissors, taking turns cutting away the blue starry fields on two large flags and then placing the remnants into the flames. The symbolic ceremony complete, they went through boxes and bags of flags and carried the flags carefully to the fires, trying hard to not let the flags touch the ground before meeting the flames.
Maj. James Nowak, chief of operations for the 4th Civil Support and Sustainment Brigade of the Ohio Military Reserve in Columbus, started Operation Respect in 2001 after spotting many old, worn flags after that year’s deadly terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. He wanted to give people a way to respectfully dispose of old flags, and since then, flag owners drop off roughly 2,000 to 3,000 flags each year at collection spots at The Andersons stores. This year’s collection effort took place Nov. 10-11, timed to coincide with Veterans Day. The Andersons and Buckeye CableSystem are sponsors of Operation Respect.
“What especially pleases me is all these young people,” Mr. Nowak of Toledo said, looking around at the gathering. “They’re enthusiastic. They’re dedicated.”
He and other adults kept a watchful eye on the proceedings, occasionally plucking from the piles a perfectly good flag that needed only a good cleaning and not incineration. A few flags were huge — like the kind that fly above car dealership lots — and others were small with short poles — types often found on graves. Many of those headed to the flames were so worn the red had turned to rusty orange or pale pink, and the fabric was tattered, jagged, or shredded.
Some were salvaged, including an Ohio state flag that Mr. Nowak pronounced to be in good shape and an older flag with only 48 stars instead of 50.
Chrissy Gee of Milan, Mich., sorted through stacks of flags “to make sure we’re not burning something that’s still in good shape.” Her son and daughter participate in the Young Marines, and she said “it’s amazing” to see young people help with such an event.
Fairview High School senior Bradi Hill, 17, who lives near Defiance, has been a Sea Cadet for nearly a year. She signed up for the program because she’s interested in joining the military after graduation. She helped bring flags to the burning piles.
“It’s definitely great that we’re doing it, and it’s an honor to be a part of it,” she said.
Contact Vanessa McCray at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6065.