By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
The holiday observance held in Atmore last Friday, November 11, was all about flags. The gathering was to hoist a new flag, retire several old ones, and to honor the men and women who fought under the banner of Stars and Stripes.
“Thank you for coming to our Veterans Day-slash-flag fold,” said American Legion Post 90 Commander Dave Graham in his opening remarks. “We are going to pay dignified respect to our flags that are no longer fit to serve our nation.”
Billy Gates, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7016, explained that the observance would not be the standard Veterans Day holiday gathering.
“This is kind of a little different from a normal Veterans Day program,” he said. “But this is one of the necessary things for what my grandson calls freedom — our flag, the proper retirement of Old Glory.”
After extending Happy Birthday wishes to the U.S. Marine Corps and prior to reading Charles M. Province’s poem, “It Is the Soldier,” Graham reminded the more than 40 people who attended the ceremony again that the event was a dual celebration.
“I’d like to wish a very happy 247th birthday to the U.S. Marine Corps,” the former Marine said, eliciting a shout of “semper fi” from one veteran. “Keep in mind as we go through our program today, that we’re showing honor to our flag and also paying tribute to all our veterans, past, present and future.”
A stiff breeze that blew during the entire ceremony kept the U.S. flag, flags of all four military branches and the POW/MIA flag billowing and flapping.
Post 7016 Chaplain Paul Harrison, who delivered the opening prayer, later presented a brief history of Veterans Day, and Lloyd Albritton read Howard Schnauber’s poem, “I Am the Flag” (formerly “My Name Is Old Glory”) before the flag-folding ceremony commenced and the flag retirements began.
“U.S. Flag Code, Title 4, Section 8, requires that a flag, when in such condition that it is not a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning,” the Post 90 commander said, noting that the tradition started when soldiers would burn their flag rather than have it captured.
A six-member honor guard, split evenly between American Legion (Harold Madison, Joel Mackety, Mike Hanks) and VFW members (Dave Gradia, Rob Protsman, Paul Harrison) then lowered the tattered flag flying on the center pole at Atmore City Hall’s Veterans Monument.
The veterans conducted a ceremonial folding with an explanation of each fold’s meaning, then replaced it with one donated by Jack Clemmons in memory of his father, Jack Clemmons Sr., who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1965.
Graham and Gates then respectfully carried the lowered flag to the burner and set it ablaze. Afterwards, the veterans and non-veterans who attended the observance were invited to take one of the more than two dozen folded flags that were ready for retirement and add them to the fire.
Veterans who “retired” a flag saluted as it burned; non-veterans stood with their hands on their hearts as flames consumed their flags, the ashes from which will be buried at Cheaha State Park’s Old Glory Lookout in Delta, Alabama.
In his closing remarks prior to the retirement ceremony, Gates expressed his displeasure that Veterans Day isn’t held in higher esteem, as it was in the past.
“Go enjoy your lunch and your Veterans Day sales, which I don’t agree with,” he said. “But a business has to stay in business.”