McALLEN — Two boys held a tattered American flag above a clay pot with burning charcoal, the flag’s red stripes looking pink, the blue looking gray, each of the stripes its own hanging ribbon.
“Don’t drop it,” the older boy said. “Hold it as best you can.”
The younger boy gathered the stripes in his hand, and together, they gently lowered the flag into the fire.
This was the scene at the Veterans War Memorial in McAllen on Thursday evening, as Boy Scouts Troop 7 held an official American flag retirement ceremony. The McAllen Fire Department, veterans and families watched as the scouts retired approximately 20 flags.
The event, held on Flag Day, was a project organized by William Webber III to become an Eagle Scout. He chose a flag retirement ceremony because he considers himself a patriotic person and saw that it needed to be done. The goal was to “promote patriotism and respect for the flag to the community.”
“A lot of people didn’t know they are supposed to retire their flags,” said Webber, an incoming freshman at McAllen Memorial High School. “Some people gave us flags from 1990 or 1992 that they were just holding in their attic.”
According to the U.S. Flag Code, when the flag “is in such a condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, (it) should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
Webber researched the proper etiquette for retiring a flag and practiced with his troop a month before the event. In his research, he found that every ceremony was different. He recalls one video in which many folded flags were placed on an oversized one, which was then rolled into what Webber described as a “multi-layered burrito of flags” and burned.
For this ceremony, the flags were unfolded, held up on display, refolded and laid into the fire.
“It’s like a phoenix, not just being discarded or forgotten,” Webber said. “It’s a blaze of glory.”
Webber did a free flag exchange at McAllen farmers markets, giving new flags to local residents who donated their old ones. Other flags came from Bentsen State Park, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Pharr Police Department and the McAllen school district. At the ceremony, he read the names of those whose flags were being retired.
Troop 7 Scout Leader Jesse Ramirez said this project builds leadership for boys hoping to become Eagle Scouts, but Webber’s project in particular makes him proud.
“In the times we’re at, it’s good to see youngsters wanting to show patriotism and duty to our country,” Ramirez said. “That wasn’t as prevalent when I was younger, so it’s nice to see the younger generation still values the flag and what it stands for.”
Ramirez served from 1983 to 1991 as an army sergeant, medic and practical nurse in Panama and the Gulf War.
“I carried the flag with me when I was in Operation Just Cause, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm,” Ramirez said. “There were bullets flying all around me and it was the only thing that protected me.”
Ramirez said a flag retirement ceremony is equivalent to a person’s funeral. He said the American flag means something different to everyone, and this ceremony was one Boy Scout’s way of paying homage to what the flag means to him.
To Webber, the ceremony was simply his duty as a Boy Scout.
“Scouting isn’t just about the person, it’s about the community,” Ramirez said. “Everything we teach them is building the ideals scouts take for the rest of their lives. They are our future leaders and we do anything we can do to help build their character. That’s what scouting is all about.”