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Tattered US flags burned in American Legion ceremony
The Flag Code suggests that when a flag has served its useful purpose, "it should be destroyed, preferably by burning." For individual citizens, this should be done discreetly so the act of destruction is not perceived as a protest or desecration. Many American Legion posts conduct disposal of unserviceable flag ceremonies. Such ceremonies are particularly dignified and solemn occasions for the retirement of unserviceable flags.
— American Legion website
It's been a long time since most of them wore a uniform or took orders.
But the US military veterans gathered Sunday at American Legion Post 807 stood at attention and saluted like it was second nature.
The post headquarters on Feather River Boulevard in Olivehurst is usually the site of two flag-retirement ceremonies each year. The first is held on June 14 — Flag Day — and the other on Dec. 7 — Pearl Harbor Day.
But last year, an unusually large number of flags were turned in by residents and civic organizations. They were tattered or sullied — unfit to fly — and thus required proper disposal.
Sunday's ritual involved recitations about the history and symbolism of the object, and about its proper care, and was followed by the burning of about 30 flags.
"It's a short ceremony," said Jim Hoopingarner, 65, the sergeant-at-arms for the post. "But it's solemn, and it's very important to us."
Hoopingarner enlisted in the Air Force in 1967, "smack dab in the middle" of the Vietnam war. He served nearly 23 years.
"My last duty station was McClellan (Air Force Base in Sacramento)," he said. "My first was Beale."
Frank Bowes, 84, played the role of chaplain for the purposes of the ceremony.
The Korean War veteran was drafted into the Army shortly after the end of World War II and tried to return to the same service branch when he found civilian life didn't agree with him.
"The Army recruiter wasn't around, so I joined the Air Force," he said. "I was a young stud then."
The flag-retirement ceremony is one of a few chances he gets each year, he said, to return to duty.
Cindy Verril, 56, the post's vice commander, said that many worn flags from nearby Beale Air Force Base wind up at the American Legion post each year.
"There are only a few places you can properly dispose of flags," she said.
Old Glory, the state flag and POW/ MIA flags eventually should wind up here, said Hoopingarner.
His sergeant-at-arms role would require him to bury the ashes at an undisclosed location after all ceremony attendees had departed.
"Only he knows where," said Verrill, grinning.
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at email@example.com or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.