Commentary: Showing Old Glory a little respect

Bob Ray Sanders is a writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Bob Ray Sanders is a writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. MCT

Fire and flag.

Many people don't like to think of those two words together because they conjure up images of protests and dishonoring one of the nation's most meaningful symbols.

But flames play an important role in one of the most reverent ceremonies involving the Stars and Stripes, and last Saturday morning I was present for one of those moving events.

The fire was burning when I arrived on the grounds of the Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth where a crowd -- including several people dressed in Civil War-period clothing -- had gathered.

Museum employee Cindy Harriman approached gingerly carrying a tattered U.S. flag that was flying at the Colleyville Heritage High School baseball field when the remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine came through last month and severely ripped it.

School officials had removed the damaged banner, folded it and put it away in a closet until last week.

That flag, along with about 30 others, would be burned as part of the U.S. Flag Retirement Ceremony sponsored by the General J.J. Byrne Camp #1 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War in conjunction with the museum.

According to the U.S. Federal Flag Code, "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

Shirley Woodlock, immediate past president of the Texas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, brought two flags: a U.S. flag and the First National Flag of the Confederacy that she used during her term in office.

One person taking part in the ceremony, Bob Rubel, is a member of the Sons of Union Veterans and Sons of Confederate Veterans.

"I had ancestors on both sides of the war," Rubel said.

On a table near the 50-gallon barrel in which the fire had been built were dismembered flags -- the blue field with white stars had been cut away from each and folded into a triangle, and the red and white stripes had been separated and tied into several bundles of each color.

The ceremony properly began with a posting of the colors by uniformed members of the Sons of Union Veterans and the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner. And, as if on cue, a fighter jet from the nearby joint reserve base flew over during the national anthem.

On hand for the event were Boy Scout Troop 435 of Saginaw, Cub Scout Troop 319 of Lake Worth and Girl Scout Troop 2702 of Saginaw.

Speakers gave a history of the flag, a recapping of wars and the number of people killed in each, and an explanation of the ceremony.

Boy Scout Ted Herman, 11, of Troop 350 in Fort Worth and Cub Scout Lawson Steuart of Troop 435 assisted by delivering the remnants of the flags to the keeper of the flame who slowly placed them in the fire.

Flags brought to the ceremony that had not been dismembered were each put into the fire stripes first. The last banner to be burned was the First National Flag of the Confederacy.

The observance ended with the singing of God Bless America, a salute by five men firing their muskets three times and the sounding of taps.

In a day when so many people tend to wrap themselves in the flag, often proclaiming their own patriotism while questioning the loyalty of others, it was heartening to witness an event that brought together descendants of both sides of the Civil War, young and old patriots, and those of different political stripes to truly honor the flag.

It also served as a reminder that too many people, including those who claim to love the flag, dishonor it by not properly displaying it.

I often see tattered flags flying in the wind in front of businesses or from a moving car, and many people fly the flag at night without any illumination on it.

Some folks even wear small flags on their back pockets, which means they actually sit on them at times.

Many of us could use more lessons on flag etiquette, especially when we are eager to preach patriotism to others.

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