Flag Day in Winnetka provided an opportunity for local residents to say goodbye to their American flags that had been tattered and torn after years of proudly being displayed.
And it was all thanks to a local Boy Scout.
The flag retirement ceremony, held on the evening of Wednesday, June 14 — Flag Day — at Crow Island Woods, was organized by Peter Garrison, with Winnetka’s Boy Scout Troop 18.
Garrison said he decided to arrange the ceremony as part of his Eagle Scout project.
He decided on the flag retirement ceremony for two reasons: one is that he said he’s passionate about the United States, and he wanted to show the importance of living and being a part of the country.
The other reason, Garrison said, is because, in speaking with local officials, “I just hadn’t heard that a ceremony for retirement hadn’t been done in years.”
He also learned, through talking with community members and local organizations, that many people had old flags in their houses that they didn’t know what to do with.
“And so, there was just a high need for it and everybody had (flags),” Garrison said.
When Garrison began letting people know that he was collecting flags for a retirement ceremony, he received a large response.
In all, 261 flags were provided to the Boy Scouts for the ceremony, all of which were reportedly collected over the course of a month.
“It was definitely a successful collection,” Garrison said.
While initially shocked at the response, Garrison said he also expected it, “because people don’t know what to do with them.”
“They just put them in their garage or put them in their house somewhere and just leave them,” he said. “And so, I think it’s important to do it (retire the flags) in the right way.”
He added that the ceremony provides an education for the public on how to properly retire their own flags, which the Scouts explained during the ceremony following readings from active and retired military personnel.
Flags made of natural materials like cotton are ceremonially burned.
The flag is folded 13 times. Each fold represents something different, including the symbol of life; honoring the veteran; a tribute to the country; motherhood and fatherhood.
The 13 folds also represent the original 13 states.
Once the flag was folded, the Boy Scouts placed it into a fire pit while “Taps” played over the loudspeaker.
Synthetic flags are handled differently, because it’s unsafe to burn that material. The Scouts explained that these flags are cut into four sections – three are the red and white stripes, while the fourth is the blue star field, which remains intact. The synthetic material is then recycled.
Garrison was happy with how many people turned out to the flag retirement ceremony, calling it “reaffirming to show that the community does care about these things.”
And he said he’s hopeful that more flag retiring ceremonies will happen in the future.
“I’ll pass on the torch to another Scout, hopefully,” Garrison said, “and we can do it for years to come.”
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.