Club retires U.S. flags in patriotic ceremony


WILLIAMSPORT -- Grayson McCleaf spotted a faded and tattered American flag hanging at a Williamsport pharmacy many months ago.

He had been learning about the proper care and retirement of Old Glory in his Cub Scout pack. So his father, Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II, was not all that surprised when Grayson, 8, said he wanted to talk to the store manager about the dingy flag.

One day, when McCleaf went to pick up a prescription, Grayson -- who had been persistent about the flag -- again requested his father's permission to speak with the store manager. McCleaf finally conceded.

"I told him, 'Just be sure to be polite,'" James McCleaf said.

The store manager was responsive. He promised Grayson as soon as he bought a new flag, he would call Grayson to come and pick up the old one. For his part, Grayson promised he would properly retire the flag.


Grayson made good on that promise Saturday afternoon at the Flag Retirement and Recognition Ceremony at the Improved Order of Red Men Conococheague Tribe 84 in Williamsport. The flag Grayson had received from the pharmacy was among 400 unserviceable flags from around the Tri-State area that were passed on to the Red Men Tribe to be burned in a dignified manner.

McCleaf applauded the Boy Scouts for instilling in young people the significance of honoring the U.S. flag. Cub Scout Pack 17 of Williamsport and Boy Scout Troop 58 of Downsville participated in the event.

Scoutmaster Dave Campbell, who leads Troop 58, said he was grateful to be a part of the Red Men's effort.

"I'm glad to be able to expose the boys to this, to give them a sense of reverence for our flag and our country," Campbell said. "I'd be willing to bet there are a lot of people in the general populous who are not aware that there is a proper way of retiring the flag. Events like this bring the proper way to light."

The Red Men had invited the public to deposit unserviceable flags in a drop-off box at the club's entrance and to attend the flag retirement ceremony.

About 200 people gathered for the service. The Williamsport Community Band played spirited patriotic songs, and four local honor guards performed their ceremonial duties.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 58 stretched out a 20-foot-long flag under a pavilion, formally presenting it to Red Men officers for inspection and disposal. Brian Sprankle, Red Men Tribe 84's head officer, declared the flag unserviceable, but spoke of its value.

"It is a precious symbol of all that we and our brothers have worked for and lived for and died for -- a free nation of free men and women, devoted to the ideals of justice, freedom and democracy," Sprankle said.

A Red Men officer prayed and buglers played taps. The Boy Scouts folded the flag lengthwise and marched it to an incinerator in the parking lot. The flag threw off a trail of black smoke. After several minutes, it became engulfed in flame. The crowd stood watching in silence, until the black heap fell to ashes. Then, a small plane flew over, low in the sky. Finally, the community band burst forth with "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Brenna House, 19, of Hagerstown, said she was stirred by the ceremony.

"I was thinking about how all these people here were silently honoring our country," House said. "Everyone was looking at the fire burning, thinking of all the people who have died and everything our country has gone through."

Tom Burke, chairman of the event, said the Red Men have been hosting flag retirements for the past three years around Flag Day. Burke said the Red Men continue to encourage people to drop off their unserviceable flags at the club on Lappans Road.

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