In keeping with a time honored tradition, the Boy Scout Troop 35 of Medina, supervised by Scoutmasters Mike Paull, Mike Gray, Mike Hill, John Dieter, and assisted by cub scout Pack 28 and 35, and supervised by Frank Berger and David Kusmierczak of Butts Park Post 204 of the Veterans of Foreign Affairs, retired American flags which had fallen into disrepair in a quiet and respectful burning ceremony. The ceremony took place in a meadow on School House Road, just north of a small pond, and near the Scouts' lodge. More than three dozen flags were donated from community members all year long for the purpose of being formally and respectfully retired, and, all of the flags were given their due respect.
"People can drop off flags that need to be retired at the VFW on North Main Street or at the American Legion on East Center," said Dave Kusmierczak, Chaplain of the VFW's Butts Clarke Post. "They can also drop them off at the Veteran Administration Building in Albion on Route 31...they have a red, white and blue box where you can drop flags off, Fact is," he added, "we had so many donated this year, we had to do an early ceremony this past April, as well."
Though a startling sight to any who may be unfamiliar with the tradition, the words of Scout
leaders Jack Hill, Ray Paull, and Benjamin Zakes brought both clarity and dignity to the flag
burning ceremony. Hill said, "These flags have flown proudly over our community. Some have
stood over public buildings, while some have been displayed at public homes. Some have stood
watch over fallen heroes, while others have stood over our youth at school. All have served
with honor, and just as we treat them with respect when they are flying, so too do we treat
them with respect when being retired."
Paull and Zakes contributed remarks as well, saying in turn, "The U.S. Flag is more than just some brightly lit cloth. It is a symbol of our nation. A symbol of people who love liberty more than life itself, of people who treasure the priceless privileges bought with the blood of our forefathers, and a symbol of people who will keep the principles of truth, justice, and charity deeply rooted in their hearts." The scouts concluded their opening speech by explaining the flag's colors and their interpretive meanings, from the seven red and six white stripes that meant the 13 original colonies; to the red that represented the lifeblood of the soldiers who died for their country; to the white indicative of the purity of purpose, thought, word, and deed; to the blue of truth and justice and a reminder of the skies above; and lastly, to explaining the 50 white stars representative of the fifty sovereign states of our union.
After the opening speech, the young men came forward in pairs, held aloft each individual flag and, using a long pole, gently placed it unfolded into the waiting cylinder. Led by Frank Berger, and supervised by Scout Masters from 28 and 35, Den Leaders, and parent volunteers, the smaller boys came forward next, two by two, carefully placed a flag in the flames. The boys then returned to the end of their line and continued forward until all of the flags were gone. Plumes of smoke rose in the sky.
The ceremony concluded by early evening, and in the walk back to our car, I reflected on why all of us there took the time to attend such events: certainly, to honor the day in more than just name. It was also about taking a moment out of a busy day to just listen.
And in listening, we honor flag, country, and the patriots among us.
Like veteran Dave Higgins of Albion, a member of Post 204 of the American Legion in Medina, there to quietly observe.
It was about watching Mr. Berger lead in the way he knows best: by gruffly admonishing the young lads to stand up! And Be quiet! Then watch him smile with affection when they're not looking.
It's about listening to Mr. Kusmierczak and Mr. Berger laugh about how Jimmy Grabowski put a grenade on top of the Korean Memorial across from the Pickle Factory, then grow more serious when they recall that two boys from Medina, Buncho and Natale, died in that war. "That's Rose Water's brother, the lady who works at the hospital, you know her?" asks Frank.
It's about listening to Dave talk about the Patriot Trip the vets do in September, how they take veterans down to DC for four days on a tour of all the monuments. "We took a guy, he lived in the Batavia VA; all the way through Pennsylvania, all the way down, he didn't say nothing! Then we see this slide show, it showed all the guys who were there when they raised the flag at Iwo Jima. And there he was! He says, 'That's me.' And it was! Let me tell you. When we got to that Memorial, everybody there, they all wanted to take a picture with him. He told us he lived on that island for 33 days.... He died a while back. But that trip we took..." he trails off. "That was something special."
And then finally there was the moment when Dan Fuller showed up to shake hands with his buddies who were leading the scouts. And the moment when he kneeled down and honored the children for their time and commitment to tradition and country, and gave each and every boy a patch from his own Airforce Unit out of North Carolina: "Return with Honor" it read.
The honor, in fact, was ours-the boys and young men completing their task, and all of us there to observe it.