Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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June 15, 2014

American flags receive honorable retirement

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Smoke rose skyward Saturday as flames retired symbols of America’s freedoms and the sacrifices made to protect them.

Local veterans and dignitaries met Saturday morning at the Sanders House in Bluefield, Va., for a flag retiring ceremony conducted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9696. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson declared that June 14 of each year would be Flag Day because the flag represents the sacrifices made by the nation’s soldiers, sailors, air personnel, Marines, and Coast Guard personnel, said VFW District Commander Dan Boyer.

“Today is a day of remembrance, for sacrifice without remembrance is meaningless,” Boyer said.

In 1777, the Continental Congress declared that the nation’s flag would have 13 alternating red and white stripes and 13 stars in a blue field. Today, the flag has 50 stars, making the flag “the brightest constellation in the galaxy of nations.”

Some people say that patriotism and the pledge of allegiance is out of style, but this is not the case, Boyer told the audience.

“How could the Declaration of Independence be out of style? How could the Constitution be out of style? And when has the Bill of Rights out of style? When has freedom been out of style?” he asked. “They contain the hopes and the dreams of all people of all times.”

“This is a beautiful day to honor the stars and stripes so many have died for,” said VFW State Department Commander-elect Buddy Weekly. He quoted the song “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood to explain the importance of the nation’s flag.

“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me,” Weekly recited.

Keynote speaker Gen. Stephen Arey, who served in the U.S Army from 1968 to 1972 and the Army National Guard from 1972 to 2000, recalled a flag that his father, Commander Richard Arey of the USS Rich, DD-720, brought home to his family. The flag had been through storms and showed all the rough conditions it had endured. Even some of the stars had been blown off. Eventually, the family had a flag retirement ceremony in the backyard.

“I can remember that some 60 years later,” he said. “It’s important we do these things. It’s important we remember these traditions.”

Arey took the opportunity to speak about the controversy involving the recent return of Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier who had been missing in Afghanistan. In some accounts, he had been captured by the Taliban, while in others he had left his post. It is a tradition for soldiers to defend each other; leaving an assigned post endangers fellow soldiers by leaving them open to attack, Arey said. This rule applies not only to individual soldiers, but to units as well.

The flag is the most important symbol of American peace, prestige and might, said veteran Doug Cook, the program’s chairman and coordinator. He recalled important events involving the flag from its creation in 1777 to it being raised over the ruins of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A 21-gun salute was fired for the flags to be retired, and Trevor Cook of Boy Scout Troop 144 performed “Taps.” Boy Scouts, veterans, and members of the public placed flags and pieces of flags into the fire so the flames could retire them. The flags’ ashes were placed in a vault made and donated by Eastern Vault of Princeton; the vault will be place near the Veterans Memorial in Bluefield, Va.

Refreshments were donated by Food City.

 — Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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