This past week our good friend Bill Fowler, who is the head of the Sumiton Area Veterans Board, asked if we’d consider playing for a Flag Retirement Ceremony.
This ceremony is the proper way to honorably dispose of an American flag that is worn or tattered. We’d never attended one of the ceremonies, so we agreed. I served in the Army, and Jilda currently works with men and women in the military returning from war zones, so we like doing almost anything the veterans ask us to do if we can.
The Honor Guard was there. This is a group of veterans who perform at military funerals and military functions around Walker County
One of the members of the Guard is 85 years old. He served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He has more ribbons on his chest than you’d see in an Easter Parade. The ceremony began with a word of prayer, the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Afterwards, Bill read a short poem written from the perspective of the flag. It’s a touching piece, and he choked with emotion toward the end of the poem, which made me choke up too.
Jilda and I played a few songs as they readied the fire. It wasn’t a large crowd, but it was a respectful one.
Boy Scout Troop 120 carried out the ceremony, which involves cutting away the blue field on which the stars are embroidered, and then cutting off each stripe of the flag, one by one.
The ceremony was held at the Sumiton Community Center at sunset. The crowd fell silent as the scouts went about their work. At one point I looked up into the sky and watched an airplane glide westward across the sky leaving a golden thread behind.
After the flag was cut into pieces, each boy approached the fire with a single strip of Old Glory, dropped it on the fire, then they stepped back and saluted.
When all the pieces of the flag had burned, the crowd again recited the “Pledge” to the burning flag. Afterward, the Honor Guard bugler played Taps. That music is one of the saddest pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Again, my eyes got misty.
I remember my father-in-law Sharky Phillips would get his hackles up in a hurry if he saw someone mishandling the flag. I’ve seen him, on more than one occasion, explain that you should never fly a flag at night unless there was a spotlight on it. And it should NEVER touch the ground.
Some people might believe that honoring our flag is for old soldiers — a tradition from the past that’s outdated. Those people have the freedom to think and say that if they like because “old soldiers” throughout American history have shed their blood, sweat and tears to make it possible.
I’d like to thank my friend Bill Fowler for asking us to play. Jilda and I both considered it an honor to be a part of that ceremony.