During ceremony, vets properly dispose of flags

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Members of the American Legion and VFW posts in Austintown dutifully lowered flags into burning pits near the veterans memorials at Wickliffe Circle as smoke billowed out over Mahoning Avenue on Wednesday,

The organizations have an annual ceremony on Flag Day to retire unserviceable flags that they collect throughout the year.

Samuel Swoger, commander of American Legion Post 301, estimated that more than 1,000 flags would be burned on Wednesday.

“It’s just our way of taking care of the flag that represents this country,” Swoger said. “It’s out of respect for our country and what our flag stands for.”

After a short ceremony, 14-year-old Andrew Kommel of Boy Scout Troop 184 in Austintown placed a tattered flag at the end of a metal pole and lowered it into a burning pit.

Then volunteers began the work of lowering flags, one after another, into four temporary burning pits that were set up for Wednesday’s activities.

“We’ll be here all day,” Swoger said. “And it will be a hot day.”

Kommel said it’s important to retire the flags properly rather than just throw them away.

“These flags have served many years and have flown over many graves,” Kommel said.

Swoger encouraged people to leave their flags with the veterans’ organizations rather than throwing them away.

“That’s not the proper way to do it,” he said. “The flag deserves the respect it’s due.”

There are mailboxes at both American Legion Post 301 at 3562 Oakwood Ave. and VFW Post 3247 at 4150 Mahoning Ave. where local residents can leave old flags for next year’s ceremony.

The organizations also collect the flags that are displayed at the graves of veterans on certain holidays.

Dave Daisher, chaplain of VFW Post 3247, said the flag retirement ceremony is, in part, about making sure the youth of Austintown understand how to properly dispose of an American flag and what it means.

A few years ago, Daisher recalled seeing three children walking down the street during the ceremony. He asked the children if they knew what he was doing.

“They said, ‘You’re retiring the flag the same as you would a soldier,’” Daisher said. “That brought tears to my eyes.”

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