Each year, just before Memorial Day, our Scoutmaster brings a group of Scouts to Greenwood Cemetery in Rye and places small American flags on certain graves.
By Chris Parker
Each year, just before Memorial Day, our Scoutmaster brings a group of Scouts to Greenwood Cemetery in Rye and places small American flags on certain graves. These graves have been marked with granite grave headstone and markers as belonging to a public servant, like a military, fire, or police member. Scouts who want to come along can, but they don’t have to. I’ve done this activity several times, and I always really enjoy it.
Walking through the cemetery is pretty interesting. Some graves are from as far back as the 1860s, for Civil War soldiers. Men that grew up in this town fought in the Civil War and were buried here. It makes Social Studies class seem real, like something that applies to me.
As we place the flags at the graves, we always find others that are really old, having been placed there years before. We collect any damaged flags so we can respectfully dispose of them at a flag retirement ceremony.
Even before I was a Scout, I think I always knew that old flags are supposed to be burned. What I didn’t know was that only certain people are permitted to do so. Active military members, veterans, and Boy/Girl Scouts are the only groups who can. Also, one person can’t just retire them alone; we have to be in a group. In a way, it’s almost like a funeral for the flags: we are all gathering publicly to recognize what they meant for our country, and to solemnly relieve them from service. We have the same amount of respect for our flags as we do for our veterans or active soldiers, so we have to retire them with honor.
Two or three weeks before we have a retirement ceremony, we conduct a flag collection. We send out an appeal to families in Rye asking for old American flags. On a determined day, any available Scouts, along with past or present military, gather for a flag ceremony. At our ceremony earlier this spring, both Scouts and veterans participated.
A typical ceremony begins with the pledge of allegiance and a prayer by a Chaplain. Then, we cut the flags on the stripes, and lay them out on the fire piece by piece. We put in the square with the stars last, and follow this process for every flag.
Troop 2’s whole flag retirement process is a solemn, but memorable experience. I enjoy walking around the cemetery and learning what service each person performed to earn the flag next to their grave. It puts history into perspective, and gives you a renewed respect for the person in that grave.
The same goes for the flags. They serve as a reminder of what so many gave their lives for. The retirement ceremony itself is also great. We gather to remember all types of veterans, and to retire flags that have done their duty. Sometimes we hear stories from veterans who are still alive, while other times we remember in silence.
Flag ceremonies have taught me a lot, and I am proud to be part of them.