Retiring flags with dignity

LIHUE — Kathy Shibuya had mixed feelings as she watched the Flag Day ceremony unfold Thursday at the Kauai Veterans Center in Lihue.

“Every time I saw pictures of flags burning, it was because people had an issue with Americans, or the American people,” said Shibuya, who has two sons who are Boy Scouts. “I have never seen this (retirement ceremony), and to be able to participate in it is a very memorable experience. For the boys who are here, this will stay with them for a long time.”

Jim Jung, chaplain for American Legion, Post 54 Kapaa, said the ceremony is death with dignity and is one of the missions of the American Legion, Post 54 Kapaa.

“We do it for humans when we cremate,” Jung said. “It is only fitting we retire the American flags with dignity.”

Boy Scouts from Troops 148, 133, and 83 joined American Legion members in retiring the collection of worn American, Hawaiian and this year, Missing in Action, flags during the Flag Day ceremony where the flags were properly retired in accordance with federal law.

“The flag is more than just some brightly colored cloth,” said Robin Sanchez, commander of American Legion, Post 54 Kapaa. “It is a symbol of our nation and what it symbolizes — freedom, freedom to worship as we please, to speak as we please, and to vote as we please. We are honoring the hard-working men and women who have made this the greatest and most successful country.”

Sanchez said when the flag is in a condition that it is no long a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably burning.

“The flag should be treated with respect when it is flying,” Sanchez said. “And it should be treated with respect when it is being retired. These flags serve as constant reminders to us all that we live in a country where our freedom has been deeply purchased by blood, sweat, tears, and ultimate sacrifice.”

Valerie Rivera had a son among the group of more than a dozen scouts who turned out for the once-a-year retirement ceremony.

“The ceremony was a learning experience for all the boys, here,” Rivera said. “It taught them the importance of the flag and how to fully respect it — even in retirement.”

Jung was heartened by the turnout of scouts and the growing number of flags who have served their time.

“Last year, we only had two scouts and they worked hard,” Jung said. “This year, we have more than a dozen, but we also have more flags. We had to empty the special flag collection box from outside the veterans center at least twice.”

Nicholas Koo of Troop 133 said the barrels were hot.

“This is the first time I heard about the retirement ceremony,” Koo said. “I can’t really describe what it made me feel. But it was a good feeling.”

Jung said because Flag Day falls on the weekend, the American Legion moved the ceremony up a few days so the youth who frequent the adjoining soccer fields would not be subjected to the smoke from the flags, many of which are now made from synthetic materials for durability.

“This ceremony was a good thing,” said Luca Rivera of Troop 148. “This is my first time participating and it’s a good thing to know that old flags aren’t just thrown in the trash.”

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