Legion posts overwhelmed with retired flags

Monday, April 8, 2002

CHICAGO -- In a burst of patriotism after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the red, white and blue of Old Glory was draped on thousands of buildings and more than a few automobiles.

Now tattered and torn American flags are piling up fast at many American Legion Posts for disposal by a ceremonial fire. The numbers are overwhelming several Chicago-area American Legion posts.

Veterans organizations usually perform the flag-burning ritual each Flag Day, on June 14, as a dignified way to retire the national symbol.

To handle this year's unusual surplus, the American Legion post in suburban Palatine had its flag burning ceremony early. Last year the legion disposed of 200 Old Glories, but this year that number ballooned to 600.

"Since 9/11, we've been absolutely clobbered with old flags," said Cmdr. Ronald Bitner of the Palatine post.

After the terrorist attacks, millions of Americans bought flags for their cars, homes and lawns. But now those flags are reaching retirement age and many citizens are becoming aware about their proper disposal, legion officials say.

"We're getting more flags than I've ever seen. People are calling us all the time because they don't want to throw them away," said Carol Soukup of the post in suburban Chicago Ridge.

Proper disposal of a flag is more of a custom than a law. The U.S. Flag Code simply recommends that they "be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

During the ceremony Friday at the Palatine post, officers placed flags in 55-gallon oil drums painted red, white and blue, and ignited them with lighter fluid.

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