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Unserviceable flags are laid to rest in ceremony

June 14, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

WILLIAMSPORT -- It's been a silent witness to celebrations and tragedies, as well as everyday life.

It hangs from front porches, pickup trucks and public buildings.

But what happens when the American flag - a symbol of this nation's pride and freedom - becomes old, weathered and torn?

It is honorably retired.

A solemn ceremony to dispose of unserviceable American flags was held Saturday on the club grounds of Williamsport Red Men Tribe 84.

The event was sponsored by the Red Men and the Potomac American Legion Post 202 Auxiliary.

According to Buddy Swartz, tribe sachem, this is the second year the organization has hosted the flag retirement ceremony.

"It's appropriate that we're holding the ceremony on Flag Day," he said. "It adds very special meaning to this event."

About 50 people attended the ceremony, which featured honor guards from AMVETS Post 10, Hagers- town Professional Firefighters Local 1605, the Washington County Sheriff's Department and the Maryland State Police.

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The event also included bagpiper Steve Shultz and trumpet players from the Williamsport Community Band, who played taps.

During a retirement ceremony, the proper way to dispose of American flags is through burning, said Tom Burke, chairman of the event.

"But it is done with dignity and respect," he said.

Hundreds of flags had been dropped off at the club's offices over the past few weeks, Burke said. But on Saturday, one large flag was burned to symbolize all of the flags.

Calvin Bonebrake, administrator and manager for the Williamsport Red Men Tribe, said he would be spending most of Saturday burning the remaining unserviceable flags.

Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II addressed those in attendance, noting that Flag Day is a time for all Americans to celebrate and show respect for the flag.

"It represents our unity as a nation," he said. "And many have died protecting it."

The ceremony concluded with an airplane flyover - a red, white and blue 150 Cessna piloted by Thomas Bowers.

Each person attending the retirement ceremony received a small American flag, and 200 new American flags were posted around the property, donated by Hagerstown Lodge 1 of Woodmen of the World, Hagerstown Lodge 1.

"Flag retirement ceremonies are a solemn and appropriate way to honor the American flag," said Gary Aejonis, president of the local Woodmen lodge. "It's an honor to be asked to be part of this."

Aejonis said handing out flags to schools and community groups is one of the major projects of his organization - and over recent years, they have been getting more and more requests.

"The country is starting to get back to honoring the flag," he said. "The flag helps us remember who we are as a country."

Susan Bonebrake of Greencastle, Pa., who attended the ceremony, brought along her grandson, Cole Bonebrake, 8.

"I thought it was very important for him to be here," she said. "He had a lot of questions about why we don't just throw an old flag away. This is something important for him to learn."

Mike Vonella of Hagerstown said he attended the ceremony as a way of honoring the flag on Flag Day.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, the Hagerstown man said he was taught to honor the flag by his father, who served in World War II.

"It's a special symbol to this country," he said. "It's a symbol of who we are. Democrat, Republic, Independent - we're all Americans, and this is our flag."

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