It was a hot, humid night in late July, and a monsoon was rolling in. There were less than ten of us, sweating around a fire, silent in a way I had never experienced with these people before. There were veterans, active military, kids who were poised to join. And a precious few were like me, patriots who were allowed, for a few moments, to look deeper into the lives of those who dedicated themselves to their country.
It was an old flag, sun-bleached and the stripes were shredded. It had served the home I stood in faithfully through years of desert heat and storms. Folded with precise care, it rested in the hands of my friend, patiently awaiting its retirement.
We were invited to share the stories of those passed on, memories were swapped and a few tears silently shed.
After a few minutes, another friend stepped up and began to lead the ceremony. She's the strongest woman I’ve ever met, but her voice shook as she read the following:
"I am your Flag. I was born on June 14, 1777. I am more
than just a piece of cloth shaped into a colorful design,
I am the silent sentinel of freedom for the greatest
sovereign nation on earth.
I am the inspiration for which American patriots gave their
lives and fortunes
I am the emblem of America.
I have led Our Troops into battle from Valley Forge to
Afghanistan. I have been there though the Civil War, Two
World wars, at Gettysburg, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War
and many other Missions
I walk in silence with each of our Honored Dead to their
final resting place beneath the silent White Crosses
I have flown through Peace and War. Through strife and
Prosperity, and amidst it all, I have always been
My red stripes symbolize the blood spilled in defense of
this glorious nation.
My white stripes, Symbolize the burning tears shed by
Americans who lost their sons in battle.
My blue field represents God's Heaven under which I fly
My stars, clustered together, unify the fifty states as one
for God and Country.
I am "Old Glory" and I proudly wave on high.
Honor me, respect me, and defend me with your lives.
Never let our enemies tear me down from my lofty position
Keep alight the fires of patriotism,
Strive earnestly for the spirit of democracy,
and keep me always as a symbol of freedom, liberty, and
peace in our country.
When comes the time when I am old and faded, do not let
me fly in disrepair, rather retire me from my duties only to
replace me with a new flag so that I may continue to
symbolize our country.
She took a step back to compose herself, and all that could be heard was the fire and a roll of distant thunder. None of us dared to speak, unwilling to desecrate the sacred silence.
The man who held the flag walked up to the fire. He looked around at the rest of us, briefly explaining why we were burning it.
The United States Code stipulates, “When a U.S. flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
We gather these Flags of our Country, which have been determined to be no longer serviceable. They have reached their present state in a proper service of respect, tribute, and in the memory of all who have served America. What we are about to do is evidence of our utmost respect and undying honor for the Flag.
Another veteran steps up, and they lower the flag into the flames, little by little.
It strikes me then, how ironic it is that the greatest dishonor that can be done to a country also involves a flag and fire. The respectful quiet was a stark contrast to the angered screams that usually accompany such a sight.
The flag burns, and we stay, watching until the red and white and blue are nothing more than glowing ashes.
We looked at each other, unsure now what to do. There was nothing left for us to do.
“Thank you all for coming tonight.” My friend says, her voice solemn. “God Bless America.”
We wander back towards the house, one or two remaining behind to watch over the fire until it burned itself out.
It’s quiet as we pull out a few card games to continue with our evening.
I sat back for a while, processing what I’d witnessed.
In those few moments, it was real for me. The why that made men willing to lay down their lives for a country was clearer. It’s a noble calling, though we might not always see it. I was suddenly grateful on a much deeper level for the simple fact that I’ve grown up in the land of the free.
I may not be personally involved in the military, but I want to thank each and every person who has served under the flag that I watched fade with dignity. Thank you for the blood, sweat, and tears that you have shed for our country and its preservation.
Thank you, and God Bless America.