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Flag Day salute

Vietnam veteran Larry Peterson of Zumbrota lifts the first flag to be burned while VFW member Howie Ayen (center) says a prayer. VFW veteran Harlan Redfield also helped with this year’s flag retirement ceremony, held on Flag Day. (Photo by Sandy Hadler, contributor)

By Sandy Hadler, contributor

ZUMBROTA — A small crowd of people gathered behind Zumbrota’s Stary-Yerka Post 5727 VFW hall Saturday morning to watch as old, tattered and faded flags were retired from use.

The event occurs annually in Zumbrota on the Saturday closest to Flag Day. This year the ceremony was held June 14, the day in 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson declared as Flag Day. It was not until August 1949 that Flag Day was officially designated by Congress.

No one is quite sure when the first flag retirement ceremony occurred in Zumbrota. Organizers pointed out that funding from the Field of Honor was used to buy a metal drop box that sits outside the VFW for collection of the old flags. This box was purchased a few years after the flag retirement ceremony began, making it easier for the public to drop off their old flags. The Field of Honor celebrated its ninth anniversary on Memorial Day, so the guess is that the flag retirement ceremony began around eight years ago.

After a prayer and the flag retiring ceremony were conducted, local service and auxiliary members burned the flags, one by one in two burn barrels. VFW member Howie Ayen said they’ve never counted how many flags are retired, but he estimates three hundred to four hundred are respectfully put to rest each year. There were a number of POW/MIA flags, Minnesota state flags, banners and reproductions of the original 13-star flag that were also retired this year.

Rules require proper disposal of American flags. Burning is the recommended method. But contrary to belief, people may bury a flag, using a wooden box, if burning is not an option. Flags should be destroyed if they become torn, soiled or damaged.

Ayen said winter’s harshness and strong winds are the flags’ greatest enemies, whipping them back and forth, and eventually tattering the ends. Due to the elements, the average flag only lasts about a year before it should be retired.

There are many rules that give guidance on how to treat the American flag with honor and respect. They include:

• Always allow the flag to fall free.

• Never let a flag touch the ground.

• Never display a flag upside down, unless there is an emergency.

• Remember that the flag represents a living country, and is considered a living thing, so give it the respect it deserves.

• When retiring a flag, do not place it on the ground or put anything on top of it.

The U.S. flag was adopted on June 14, 1777. It is the fourth oldest national flag in the world. Denmark’s flag, which was adopted in 1219, is the oldest.