By MIKE FLETCHER
KOKOMO, Ind. — Throughout the year, Jim Ault and other local veterans collect old and tattered American flags in order to burn them as part of a traditional ceremony in recognition of Flag Day.
The event, called Flag Drop, honors and celebrates the freedom that the stars and stripes stand for and provides a convenient way to dispose of unserviceable flags.
“These flags are unserviceable and they are due a respectable cremation,” said Ault, the commander of VFW Post 8035. “It is our duty as veterans to do it and do it in a respectable way.”
There won’t be any such ceremony this year, since the veterans discovered a bill exists making it illegal in Indiana to burn nylon, the material most flags are made from.
Now, Ault said he has “two tons of flags” with no way to dispose of them.
“That’s a lot of flags, but it’s our duty to do something with them.” said Ault. “Someone’s got to do it.”
Ault and fellow veteran and VFW member Thomas Hagan have contacted several politicians trying to get an answer, but has not had much luck.
“We’re at a crossroads,” Ault said. “We’re trying to solve one problem, but it creates another. If we do this, we’re in violation of the law.
“A letter lays on [President Bush’s] desk asking what needs to be done to comply with the flag code,” he said. “Hopefully, someday through the political process we’ll get an answer, though, we don’t expect one. People we’ve talked to are passing the buck.
“As a veteran, it’s disheartening because you grow up in this country and that’s one of your symbols of freedom. We treat it as though it’s a living thing. It’s part of your life. It’s one of your best buddies.”
Hagan, a Korean War veteran, said he was not aware of the law that bans burning nylon until recently.
“I called the Indiana Department of Environmental Health and they told me you can’t burn nylon in many states because of the gas it puts off,” Hagan said.
“But, the flag code says that burning is the preferable way to dispose of flags,” Hagan said. “When the flag rules were made, most flags were made of cotton. If you can’t burn them legally, what do yo do? We want legislators to say what are our other alternatives and put it in writing.”
Ault said the old flags should be treated like the fallen soldiers who carried them through battle.
“When it becomes an unserviceable flag, we treat it like it is a human living thing,” Ault said.
“Even though it’s just a piece of cloth, it still has the value of our history in it. It feels like you’re letting your soldier die in vain. It’s just kind of a black eye to [veterans]. It’s like somebody sticking an ice pick in you and you can’t say ouch.”
Ault, who conducts flag etiquette classes for the public, is hoping his quest for answers will not be forgotten.
“We’re trying to look at an alternative possibly packaging the unserviceable flags in heavyweight plastic bags, seal them and bury them,” Ault said. “It still complies with the flag code, which states the flag is not to touch the earth. It might come down to local people to answer the problem of the flag code, the politicians haven’t been able to.”
Ault said it’s also disheartening that politicians don’t seem to care about the issue.
“We elect these people to represent us, but when they get to the state, local or national level, they forget who they do represent. They fall into party lines and the American public doesn’t seem to be matter.”
Mike Fletcher writes for the Kokomo (Ind.) Tribune.
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According to the Department of Defense, flying the flag should be done with these rules in mind:
• It should be raised and lowered by hand.
• The flag should not be raised while it is furled.
• Flags should be quickly hoisted to the top of a pole and lowered slowly with dignity.
• No objects should be placed on or over the flag.
• In a church, the flag should be displayed at the congregation's right.
• Over a street, the flag should be vertically suspended with the blue field to the north on an east/west street or the east on a north/south street.
• When displayed with another flag, the flag should always cross in front of the other flag and appear to be on its own right.
• On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon, then hoisted to the top of the staff.
• Flags placed over caskets should have the union field over the left shoulder.
• When a flag is displayed either horizontally or vertically on a wall, the blue background should always be in the upper left hand corner.
• The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.
• The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure or drawing of any kind.
• If you wish to show your patriotism, fly our flag with dignity and respect, not for profit.