Outside The Gates: American flags get honorable retirement
“If they are faded, soiled, tattered, or torn they are no longer fit to represent our country”
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The national flag of the United States of America serves as a visible reminder of those committed to each branch of the military. The 50 stars representing each state overlook its 13 stripes — an homage to the original colonies. It’s a symbol of freedom that Renee Rangel said deserves the same honor as a service member.
“Every person in my family was military, I’m the only one that never really served,” Rangel said. “This is the only way I know how to serve.”
Rangel is not a veteran but calls herself a patriot. She has helped host formal flag retirement ceremonies for the last eight years, educating the public on proper flag retirement procedures.
“If they’re faded, soiled, tattered, or torn they are no longer fit to represent our country,” Rangel stated. “Therefore, we take it down and we retire it by fire. If in fact you can’t retire by fire, it is okay to bury it — but it is never okay to wad it up and put it in your closet.”
The ceremonies occur on Flag Day each year, with this year’s event taking place at AMVETS Post #49 in southside Anchorage. The large lot just off the Seward Highway placed three burn barrels in front of a table filled with flags awaiting retirement. The Pledge of Allegiance followed an opening prayer before the United States Air Force Honor Guard prepared two flags in a folding ceremony, as Rangel read aloud the meaning of each of the 13 folds.
Each flag was then placed in its respective burn barrel, as service and community members saluted or bowed their heads in silence after each flag.
Around 100 flags were retired at this year’s ceremony, including a handful of POW and Alaska state flags. After the ashes cooled, Rangel collected them for burial in the soil of poppy and rose beds.
“It is to be treated as if it were a human being or a functioning member of society,” Rangel said. “So if we give it the utmost respect, we expect that our flags to be treated as our service members.”
Flags that are ready for retirement can be dropped off at a VFW or AMVETS organization. Rangel said many have dispensaries that accept them, but even if they don’t they will be turned over to a club or participating venue that does. The formal flag retirement ceremonies are open to the public and individuals are invited to lower a flag into a barrel if they wish.
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