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Flag-retirement ceremony lays worn-out flags to rest
ARLINGTON When people hear about American flags being placed in a flame, a lot of them don't associate it with a display of patriotism.
But that's exactly what it was when military veterans and cadets joined community members in staging a "flag retirement ceremony" June 14.
The Stillaguamish Valley Pioneer Museum and Arlington Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1561 coordinated their first such ceremony at the museum on Flag Day, with plans to turn it into an annual event.
"We try not to use the word 'burn,' even though fire is involved," said Marty Rausch, caretaker of the Stillaguamish Valley Pioneer Museum. "The flame is seen as a form of cremation, which is the oldest form of interring a body. It's treated like a fallen soldier. The ashes are buried in an unmarked location so they can't be desecrated."
Members of the Sea Cadets of Marysville and the Air Force Junior ROTC of Arlington High School took part in retiring the flags, which came from local businesses and other organizations, as well as individuals. They were placed in the open flame in order of largest to smallest, with the larger flags being cut into quarters before they were folded in tri-corner fashion and cremated, one at a time.
"When a flag wears out, it can't be recycled or trashed," said Rausch, who was inspired to conduct a local version of the ceremony after he and local VFW members had witnessed similar ceremonies in other locations.
The event coordinators received a burn permit from the Arlington Fire Department, but were only able to retire 60 of the more than 100 flags they received. Rausch explained that flags would be collected and stockpiled for next year's event, with the museum serving as a drop-out for flags in need of retirement.
"Each one had its own signature," said Rausch of the flags, as he considered how to prepare for next year's event. "Silk and cotton just melt, but all-weather and nylon give off these black plumes. We stirred the ashes afterward, but it took a long time for that flame to cool down since it had been burning hot for a few hours. We'll use a bigger fire next time."
Of the AHS Air Force JROTC, Maj. Mike Blue opened the ceremonies by explaining them, and Master Sgt. Alvin Moore followed the ceremonies with an a-cappella rendition of "America the Beautiful," after which a bugler played "Taps."
Rausch added that the museum encourages people to bring in their tattered and torn flags when they're open, which is usually Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1-3 p.m. He also invited any civic, scouting or veteran organizations that would like to be included in future events call 360-435-7289.