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Oak Harbor Veterans of Foreign Wars honor Old Glory with flames

Members of the honor guard watch as the stars from an American flag burn in an open fire behind the Veterans of Foreign Wars Whitehead-Muzzall Post 7392 in Oak Harbor on Veterans Day. The burning served as an honorable retirement ceremony for the flag which was worn out. - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Members of the honor guard watch as the stars from an American flag burn in an open fire behind the Veterans of Foreign Wars Whitehead-Muzzall Post 7392 in Oak Harbor on Veterans Day. The burning served as an honorable retirement ceremony for the flag which was worn out.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

As late fall’s chilling wind swept through the grounds of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Whitehead-Muzzall Post 7392 in Oak Harbor on Thursday, a large group of former and current military men and women gathered to retire one lone American flag.

The flag was stripped and soiled, and yet its presence weighed heavily upon the crowd.

When a flag gets tattered and weather beaten, out of respect, it is supposed to be retired. According to Post Commander Pete Sill, very few organizations are certified to properly dispose of flags and few members of the public have heard of the important event. The ceremony consists of cutting a flag into its parts and burning it in an open fire.

“Today we are not burning a flag, we are retiring a symbol of America’s honor,” Sill said.

Sill and former service officer and trustee Ben Bunnell, who serves as a coordinator for the VFW, emceed the event.

“A lot of us get pretty upset when we see a flag mistreated,” Bunnell said.

To Bunnell, honoring the flag is important because in addition to representing the nation, it represents all the family members, neighbors and strangers who fought and are currently fighting to protect its freedoms.

“The situations where you lose friends, where you don’t know whether you’re going to live or die; that’s the military,” Bunnell said. “We don’t think of ourselves as special people, but we damn sure are.”

The stripes of the flag were burned individually as Bunnell and Sill reminded the crowd of what they each represented, and the ceremony concluded with the burning of the stars.

As the flames died down, Bunnell read from a poem by an unknown author quoting, “Some people call me Old Glory, others call me Stars and Stripes; I have been referred to as the Star Spangled Banner. But whatever they call me, I am your flag, or as I proudly state the flag of the United States of America. There is something that has been bothering me, so I thought I might talk it over with you. ...Is it a sin to be patriotic anymore? Have you forgotten what I stand for? Have you forgotten all the battlefields where men fought and died to keep this nation, your nation, free? When you salute me, you are actually saluting them.”

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