A while back I noticed pictures of scouts (male and female) cutting the canton (blue field) from American flags readying them for disposal. I then noticed pictures of stars cut from American flags that were neatly packaged in very small zip-close bags along with a typed note to our country’s veterans that reads:
“I am part of our American flag that has flown over the USA. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that You are not forgotten.” (Emphasis theirs)
Let’s see what the US Flag Code has to say about a flag that is “tattered and torn” from the sun and wind. TITLE 4, Chapter 1, Sec. 8(k) 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.”
You can imagine my surprise that someone would actually think it is just fine to cut up the flag, whether “tattered and torn” or not, and hand out its pieces as a tribute. So, I found the website for Stars for our Troops and sent them a message. When you submit a message to the organization, you must supply all of your contact information.
My message read: Deplorable! http://www.starsforourtroops.org (Your) company cuts up American flags and gives the stars to vets. So, desecration of our National Ensign is OK as long as you give the stars to “deserving” people.
In return, I received a package in the mail.
The package contained a sandwich-sized zip-close bag with 49 of the smaller zip-close bags, that I mentioned earlier, containing stars cut from flags. There was also a typed note with a hand-written message.
The written message said this:
“You have the opportunity to change and thank 49 people because we appreciate them.” Signed by Susan.
Below is my final response to Susan and her organization’s completely misplaced respect for “our troops”.
I do have an opportunity, one that is multifaceted due to your organization. My first opportunity is to properly dispose of American flag material, something that is every American’s responsibility, whether they accomplish it their self or have an organization do it for them.
Here is the sequence of events that took place to properly dispose of the 49 stars and the small threads that fell from some of them:
First came the removal of all 49 stars, the tiny threads and the pieces of paper inside each bag. Side note, I recycled the paper.
I did not have access to nor did I have the ability to create a fire and place the stars on it as is usual, so I adapted and took a piece of scrap metal that I had, cleaned it off, placed the stars on it and soaked them in lighter fluid.
I then lit the stars and made sure they burned completely. I gathered the remains in a small shovel, buried them in a small spot in my back yard, sounded Taps through my phone and rendered a hand salute during that time (veterans are now authorized to salute in civilian clothes since a National Defense Act of the mid 2000s).
My next opportunity is to educate you and the rest of America as to why it is so very wrong to cut up “tattered and torn” American flags and give them out as a misplaced form of appreciation. This is not some one-up, tit-for-tat game nor is it an attack, this is my version of reproof for you. It may seem harsh, but out of a difficult situation we can learn and grow. In no way should you continue to cut flags and hand out the pieces as tribute. It does not matter how any veteran “feels” when they receive it, what you are doing is wrong and I’ll even attempt to educate my fellow veterans. The “Tears in veteran’s eyes” thing does not phase me. It’s a caring gesture that the veterans appreciate and a great majority of Americans, it seems, have no understanding of flag desecration, especially when it is done with utter sincerity.
I cannot force you to do anything, nor do I really want to. I would appreciate it if you would just stop doing this of your own volition. Stop desecrating flags and handing out the pieces. Here’s a thought, switch to handing out tiny triangle-folded flags. The flags that are on the small sticks that people buy and wave at Independence Day parades would be perfect, people don’t know what to do with them on July 5th anyway, so why not begin a campaign to have them donated/mailed to you. You could fold them into triangles per the Flag Code and even get local JROTC cadets or scouts to help in this. How much more meaningful this would be, a definite win-win for everyone! Here is a picture of a flag that I received in 2010 from a prospective Eagle Scout. It’s a great idea!
The only time a flag is cut is when it is too big to be disposed of safely. It is then cut into manageable pieces and burned (cotton) or shredded (man-made materials). An alternative to this is burying the whole flag in a box. See also Appropriate Flag Retirement.
Standards matter, not feelings.