ChesCo Marine Corps League collecting for Flag Retirement Ceremony

The Chester County Marine Corps League has a bin located outside of their location in Downingtown for year-round collection of flags in need of disposal. The league will be at the Exton Mall on May 18 with a table set up for flag collection and distribution of information on proper flag etiquette. Photo by J. Finneran/Tri County Record

On May 18, 2013 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. the Chester County Marine Corps League (CCMCL) will be at the food court of the Exton Mall collecting American flags in need of proper disposal. Annually the CCMCL disposes of approximately 3,000 flags, and this free service is a sure way to see that old flags are disposed of in a dignified manner.

This is the third year that the CCMCL, which is located in Downingtown, has been collecting the flags at the mall as a service to the community. Leo Burke, a Morgantown resident and Sergeant-at-Arms for the CCMCL, said that the CCMCL hosts the collection at the mall twice a year. The league sets up a table where they collect the flags and also offer lessons in etiquette for caring for a flag.

“Many people do not know of the proper way to dispose of the flag,” he said. “We have some people who are first upset when we tell them that we are going to be burning the flags – they think that burning the flag is disrespectful – but we explain to them that (ceremonial) burning is the proper way of disposal.”

In fact, the U.S. Flag Code states:

The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

“We collect all sizes of American flags,” Burke continued. “If a flag that is given up for disposal is still usable we will donate that flag to someone who needs one.”

Once a large enough number flags have been collected, the CCMCL performs a flag retirement ceremony at the West Chester Fire Department Training Grounds in West Chester, PA. It is a ceremony that involves (minimally) an acting chaplain, a retirement assistant, and a bugler. Together they conduct a ceremony for the first flag to be retired, and subsequently carrying on in the retirement of the remaining flags under the auspices of the opening ceremony.

According to CCMCL Commandant Fred LeClair, the ceremonies at the Fire Department Training Grounds are considered informal – retirement of such a large number of flags creates a great deal of soot, and so CCMCL members do not wear dress uniforms (although they do wear their informal uniform, which consists of red USMC hats) – and are rarely viewed by the public at large. The CCMCL does typically hold a formal flag retirement ceremony once a year at Marinelli Park in Downingtown.

According to Burke, the CCMCL flag retirement ceremonies began following a conversation over needed disposal of flags which a league member had accumulated.

“We had different guys who were asking ‘how do we properly get rid of the old flags?’” he explained. “One of our members, Al Harper, had been storing a bunch of old flags in his garage. So we decided that we would reach out to the fire company and ask to use the fire grounds for the ceremonies.”

CCMCL Commandant Fred LeClair offered the following thoughts on the flag retirement ceremonies:

“The flag, whether it be of silk or of paper, is the symbol of our country and its freedom. It must be treated with absolute respect. People have died defending our Constitution, and that flag is their emblem. Our responsibility is to uphold that symbol of freedom. When a flag’s serviceability is in question – when it does not look as good as it should – we have a responsibility to see that it is disposed of properly. Organizations such as the boy scout and veterans groups are here to be sure that flags are treated with proper respect – our detachment accepts flags from many places – we store these flags and then hold a ceremony where a prayer is said over the flag, taps is played over the flag, and we stay with these flags until the end when the very last piece in incinerated.”

The CCMCL would like to thank Mark K. Owen and Judy Flynn at the Exton Mall for their support of the flag collection events, as well as Fire Chief Dale McClure of the Goodwill Fire Company and West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta for allowing the CCMCL to use the firefighting facility for the flag retirement ceremonies.

To find out more about the CCMCL visit www.chescomcl.us. The CCMCL is located at 430 Chestnut Street, Downingtown, PA, and the league’s red flag disposal bin is conveniently located in the front of its building under the flag pole.