‘We’re not burning flags, we’re retiring them’: Stars and stripes honored on Flag Day

lfabian@macon.comJune 14, 2013 

Flag Day often passes without fanfare.

Without an official federal holiday, the commemoration of the 1777 adoption of the United States flag can slip by as little more than a mention on the calendar.

“I display the flag year-round,” said John Ricketson, who lives in south Monroe County.

After recently buying a new one, he took the old one to Fort Hawkins.

Friday afternoon, he presented it to Marty Willett, who was stoking a ceremonial fire on the site of the former fortress built in 1806.

“We’re not burning flags, we’re retiring them. There’s a difference,” said Willett, the project coordinator and press officer for the Fort Hawkins Commission. “I always salute them because I’m a Vietnam (era) veteran.” The official U.S. Flag Code states worn out flags should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

“I believe that it represents not only our country but service to our nation, the way JFK. so eloquently stated,” Willett said.

The commission began retiring flags on Flag Day three years ago. Four years earlier, they began another more formal retirement ceremony tradition as part of the Veterans Day observance at the fort.

“On patriotic days, this fort needs and deserves that kind of respect,” Willett said. “This fort represents the beginning of the country, frontier America in 1806 with Creek Indians on the west side of the river.”

Ever the historian, Willett is quick to point out the 15-star flag flying atop the replica blockhouse at the corner of Maynard Street and Emery Highway. The same “Star-Spangled Banner” flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 and inspired Francis Scott Key to pen our nation’s anthem.

The Major Philip Cook chapter of the United States Daughters of 1812 purchased miniature versions of that flag they distributed to Flag Day guests.

In the 236th year after the U.S. adopted its first flag of 13 stars, a brand new red, white and blue banner is flying over Cherry Blossom Festival headquarters.

Jake Ferro, the festival’s president and CEO, said the building has been without a flag since vandals started plaguing the pink building on Cherry Street.

They destroyed the festival’s sign, tore the pump from the fountain and broke the gate to the parking lot.

When Woodmen of the World field representative Frankie Lamb delivered a new complimentary flag Friday morning, they noticed the clips had been broken off a torn rope on the flagpole.

“We’re not going to let them hinder us from flying the flag,” Ferro said, as he watched Macon-Bibb County firefighters from Station 11 install the new one.

Ladder crew Sgt. Greg Beni climbed to the top of the pole to attach a new rope and clips to hoist the celebrated stars and stripes on its special day.

“Now when someone asks you what you did for Flag Day, you’ll have something to tell them,” volunteer Connie Thuente told Beni, Cpl. Keith Stephens and Pvt. Kentrell Jordan.

Lamb and his colleagues across the country commemorate Flag Day each year by making presentations to nonprofit organizations, schools and churches.

“Because of our heritage of the Woodmen, we started in 1890, and we’re very proud of the country we live in. We never forget how great this country is,” said Lamb, who was sporting a flag tie over his white shirt.

The insurance company has presented more than two million flags, making it one of the largest distributors in the nation, according to its website.

The company also annually honors the heroes and victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Lamb has been donating flags to the festival for about 20 years.

“When will you need another one?” he asked before leaving.

Thuente requested a fresh one in February, just in time for the festival in March.

“It’s fabulous,” Ferro said of the new flag.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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