Boy Scouts retire American flags with respect and learn about history

By Terry Cregar

TAYLORS — The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have — among many things — renewed interest in and appreciation for the American flag.

For a small group of young men, that attitude was firmly in place long before those tragic events.

Since first being chartered in April 2000 by Prince of Peace Church, Boy Scout Troop 925 has retired several worn and faded American flags.

The practice started when the troop first organized. A flag was retired as part of the “crossover” ceremony used to advance boys from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.

“We just realized that there was a need for this service,” troop Scoutmaster Marty Yigdall said.

The troop has retired flags flown at local fire stations, chambers of commerce, the Knights of Columbus and a flag owned by a Greenville couple that flew over the White House.

Yigdall said the Scouts research the history of each flag prior to the retirement ceremony, information that’s read as the flag is being dismantled and burned.

Scout David Gilson said that research, combined with the deliberate process used in dismantling and burning the flag, enhance his appreciation for Old Glory.

“You know what it means and you respect it more,” Gilson said.

Yigdall said part of the retirement ceremony includes talking about the flag. “For example, what do the 13 stripes represent? Everyone in this troop knows that the 13 stripes represent the original 13 colonies.”

Typically, the ceremony involves cutting each stripe from the flag and burning them individually, then cutting each of the 50 stars from their location on the flag. The stars are burned last.

Scout Will Westermeier said an alternative retirement ceremony involves folding the flag and laying it on a metal frame over the flame.

The troop recently received a pair of worn Belgian flags that were dropped off at Prince of Peace. Troop members are researching how to properly dispose of it.

Yigdall said the process of dismantling the flag and then disposing of it helps address the concern over the image of a burning flag.

“We want to convey to people that we’re not burning flags,” he said. “By dismantling it and burning it in pieces, once it’s dismantled the thought is that it’s no longer a flag but only components of a flag.”

Most of the retirement ceremonies are held during scout campouts. The troop had one of its biggest ceremonies last summer at Camp Old Indian in northern Greenville County, where more than a dozen flags were retired. The troop collects ashes from each flag retirement ceremony and then spreads those ashes on the next retirement ceremony fire — a practice that’s repeated with each ceremony.

“We call it our ritual ash,” Yigdall said.

Yigdall said many organizations that display American flags fly them way too long.

“For people to display such flags isn’t showing respect for our nation,” he said.

Assistant Scoutmaster Keith Cuddy said that many who display Old Glory don’t know how to properly retire it.

“They’ll just throw them into a trash can,” Cuddy said.

He said the Boy Scouts is one of only a few organizations that, by law, can legally dispose of the flag.