Elks lodge hosts traditional flag retirement ceremony

Don Harvey (center) removes the stripes of the first flag presented for retirement with the help of Cadet Lt. Col. Garrett Neaveill (left) and Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Isabella Graziano, both of Civil Air Patrol Unit KY-011. This flag and many others were retired in a ceremony Sunday at Elks Lodge 217 in Paducah.

The Elks Lodge 217 of Paducah held its traditional flag retirement ceremony Sunday at its lodge on North Fourth Street.

Generally an annual event on or near Flag Day, June 14, the ceremony was canceled last year due to COVID-19 precautions.

Boy Scout Troop 7 and Civil Air Patrol Unit KY-011 assisted with the retirement of more than 50 flags.

Prior to the retirement of the flags, Elks Lodge President Kevin Nelson presented a program about the history of the flag and what it represents.

“(The flag) symbolizes the divine right of all to life, liberty, happiness and peace as the endowments by their creator,” he said. “…This is the heritage of the people of the United States. It has been repurchased by succeeding generations and must be reborn again and again.”

Nelson spoke of the many times that liberty was repurchased over the years.

“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. It was won at Lexington and Concord and at Bunker Hill,” he said. “It was repurchased at Ticonderoga and Yorktown. … What our troops achieved under the Stars and Stripes at Chateau-Thierry and Flanders in World War I, their sons were required to repurchase in World War II in a bloody trek across Africa on the beachheads of Europe and the Battle of the Bulge.

“The flag that our American men raised at Iwo Jima was the same flag that was raised later at events at Inchon, Pusan and Pork Chop Hill, and another generation raised the same flag that led to stem the threat of Communism in far-off Vietnam.”

Nelson spoke of 21st century instances where the flag was inspirational.

“Who among us will forget the sight of the firefighters raising their flag over ruins of the World Trade Center?” he said. “…No other symbol could have offered such comfort, as we still today remember the horror of that day.”

Following the program, flags that were brought to the Elks lodge and to the Veterans of Foreign Wars building were retired after becoming unfit for display.

The first flag had its stripes removed from the blue field of stars, with each color of the stripes and the field retired separately. That is to change its identity from an American flag to its constituent cloths.

“The United States Flag Code states that when a flag is no longer fit to be shown as a representation of our nation, it is to be retired with dignity,” Nelson said. “That is to be presented by burning or by burying. Burying has been taken away, pretty much, but burning is still alive in respectful venues. That is what we attempt to do here today.”

Flags brought for retirement were burned in a barrel at the Elks lodge, with volunteers putting flags in for burning.

Flag Day is marked on June 14 after the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution on June 14, 1777, stating what the flag of the United States would look like. On Aug. 3, 1949, Congress established a national Flag Day, although it is not a federal holiday.

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