End sought for tattered flags on display since Sept. 11

Friday, June 14, 2002

CHICAGO -- Sandwiched between two more popular national holidays, Flag Day does not get nearly the same fanfare of barbecues, beer and a day off, as Memorial Day and Independence Day.

But the surge in patriotism after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 prompted millions to display flags, many of which have reached the tattered end of their life expectancies, and this Flag Day many of those flags will be burned in solemn ceremonies across the country.

Civilians inexperienced in the traditional ways to properly dispose of flags have turned to groups like the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars for help with discarding used flags through ritualized burning ceremonies.

"We call it disposing of the flag," said Ernie Sanchez, past commander of American Legion Montoya y Montoya, Post 1, Santa Fe, New Mexico. "We don't burn the flag, only hippies burn the flag, anti-war radicals of the '60s and '70s. We dispose of them and we dispose of them properly."

When Flag Day ceremonies are done Friday in Santa Fe, the 62-year-old former Marine will be taking about 60 dingy flags on the hourlong drive to Albuquerque. There, members of his post will join in the formal ceremony to dispose of the worn-out flags.

"To me this is a special day, like the Fourth of July if not even more so. I don't have the words to express how special it is," Sanchez said. "Every one should get out and honor our country and our flag because our veterans fought and died for it."

Joe Packer, as part of his final project to earn the elite rank of Eagle Scout, will observe Flag Day by retiring a sliver of the nation's backlog of tattered American flags.

"After 9-11, I saw all the old U.S. flags starting to be torn and tattered," the 13-year-old said. "I just thought it would be a good idea to help out with getting rid of them."

Friday, Packer will be at American Legion's national headquarters in Indianapolis conducting fellow scouts in the time-honored tradition of disposing of the Stars and Stripes by cremation.

The Indianapolis seventh-grader collected more than 200 flags ready for retirement in less than two weeks.

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