There they lay in all their red, white and blue glory albeit discolored, ripped and AWOL from their sticks, while resting in the mucky terrain flanking Pine Hill Cemetery along Montour Road in Elysburg.
The sticks to which they were attached and the flag holders that held them in place marking all the military veteran’s graves, had no choice but to surrender their colors to the unrelenting winds of March.
Considering the ratio of veterans in the cemetery, the flag casualties were high. Initially, 14 had been ripped from their sticks and deposited at various sites along the berm of Montour Road. A few made it across the street and were held prisoner interwoven into the hedge row that borders a harvested corn field, but still quite visible.
Such a blustery onslaught occurs like clockwork every year with early spring being perhaps the greatest perpetrator of flag forfeitures. The recovery efforts have also been the same, proving once again that change is a difficult byproduct to come by no matter what the culture.
The flags were always quickly retrieved and secured until I could bring them to the American Legion’s time-honored flag box along Mill Street in Danville, where they are then properly destroyed by members of the Legion in what is an annual tradition for many posts on Flag Day.
This year, however, retrieval efforts along Montour Road would be different.
The question being, was I the only one noticing the AWOL flags taking up residence near the street on my daily roundtrip two-wheeled commute? Montour Road has its fair share of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, so certainly others have seen the flags during their travel? Even Rover had to come across some of those Star Spangled Banners when sniffing out a venue?
One week was all the allotted time I could provide.
Surely, folks would police up and take care of their nation’s historic colors and not allow them to wallow as just another piece of roadkill. Nor is it such a menial task strictly reserved for the local Boy Scout Troop that replaces those flags in May prior to Memorial Day with crisp new ones, or perhaps for those voluntary PennDOT roadside cleanup crews who provide an excellent community service in removing roadside debris?
Sadly, it was not to be.
June 14th this year was a Friday and if it was your birthday, wedding anniversary or if you are an Army veteran (birthday of the U.S. Army), you are most likely aware that the day also represents the annual observance of Flag Day; a much lesser-known federal custom that still makes an appearance on most U.S. calendars.
There really isn’t too much fanfare for this long-standing American observance that was officially recognized from sea to shining sea ever since Congress established it as a national observance shortly after World War II in 1946. Although not an official federal holiday, Pennsylvania was the first state to celebrate Flag Day as a state holiday on June 14, 1937.
It is customary of the American Legion across our fruited plain to conduct annually what the flag code calls a “Disposal of Unserviceable Flag Ceremonies” and they do so every Flag Day. This observance is a dignified and solemn occasion for the disposal of unserviceable flags.
Granted, the U.S. Flag Code passed and amended by Congress in 1942, is more extensive than perhaps many can imagine, but most Americans have seen enough media to realize that the nation’s colors should never be shown “no disrespect” and should “never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground.”
For anyone who has served abroad as a civilian with the federal government, or as a member of the armed forces, they understand completely that there is nothing more gratifying than seeing that Star Spangled Banner snapping in the wind holding court over any U.S. compound the world over.
It’s their Francis Scott Key moment.
The hope here is that this column will inform on a subject that perhaps too many of us take for granted, like the hope and freedom that those colors have represented for nearly 243 years; not just here in the U.S., but around the world to every breathing, liberty-loving human being.