U.S. flags fly through the toughest of weather, from raging wind to bright sun to pouring rain. The flag is surely our symbol of perseverance.

But over time, from constant exposure to the outdoor elements, flags become faded and tattered and must be disposed of.

That’s when the American Legion steps in. Legion posts across the country conduct flag disposal ceremonies several times each year to give well-worn flags proper respect as they are burned and reduced from torn cloth to gray ash.

People who attend these emotionally stirring ceremonies speak of them as unforgettable. Perhaps the most memorable one held each year comes on Flag Day.

This coming Monday, June 14, will mark the 105th official observance of Flag Day. And patriotic Legionnaires, our true lovers and defenders of Old Glory, will be at work across the nation that day giving those old, worn-out flags a proper send-off.

Legionnaires both observe and promote flag etiquette. They visit our schools to teach children about respect for the flag. They also place flags and metal poles in front of our schools and donate flags to classrooms.

Legionnaires are among our most devoted patriots. They have served America honorably in the military and they have fought our wars. To them our flag is not just a flag. It is the sacred image of service, courage and respect of the highest order. 

They carried the flag into battle, and they fought for what it stands for. Many of them rallied around it in harm’s way, and they wholeheartedly support a national day each year to honor our flag.

Right now, the Legion is continuing its effort to lawfully protect the flag. A constitutional amendment, strongly supported by them and other national service groups, has been introduced in both houses of Congress. 

The amendment simply states: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” The amendment has massive public support. Eighty percent of Americans favor it.

Constitutional amendments also require the support of three-fourths of states for ratification. Thus far, all our state legislatures have passed resolutions in favor of the flag protection amendment. The hold-up, though, is in Congress, where everything seems to be held up.

The fight to protect the flag began in 1989 when the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision defined flag desecration as protected speech, which it is not. Frankly put, anyone with an axe to grind — or swing — can legally burn or destroy a flag in public or in private and not face prosecution.

“Opponents of the flag amendment tell us that acts of desecration are rare,” says former Legion National Commander Dale Barnett, who lives in the west Atlanta suburb of Douglasville. “Yet we regularly see news footage and media videos of demonstrations that include stomping, burning and other forms of (flag) desecration.”

The Legion feels it needs to take the lead in the fight to protect the flag, even in light of the Supreme Court’s narrow decision that flag desecration is protected by our constitution. 

Protesters do not need to rip and burn the American flag to make the point that they are against certain political actions or issues. There are, for sure, better ways and means to draw public support to their causes.

People often inquire whether wearing a replica of the flag shows disrespect in any way. It doesn’t. It’s OK to wear T-shirts and ties of flag patterns or even partial prints of flags on jeans and jackets. Unless the replicas were cut from an actual flag, they aren’t considered the flag.

We all take pride that our flag plays a prominent role in ceremonies where we honor our war heroes, both living and deceased. For sure, the flag is at the very heart of these ceremonies.

Our flag waves at all public events and at the dedication of buildings, structures and public parks. It is the centerpiece of funeral services for fallen soldiers, congress members and presidents. As a tribute, flags draped over their coffins are given to family members as treasured keepsakes. 

To honor our deceased heroes and leaders, flags are flown at half-staff from buildings and businesses across the land. Nothing seems to make our pride swell more than to see our flag waving in the wind at community, state and national events and at official outdoor observances on Flag Day.

Even though communities across the nation have honored the flag on the anniversary of Congress’ Flag Resolution of 1777, it wasn’t until 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14 as National Flag Day. 

President Wilson chose that date because the Continental Congress approved the first Stars and Stripes American flag on June 14, 1772. President Harry Truman solidified Wilson’s observance by signing an act of Congress in August 1949 designating June 14 each year as National Flag Day. 

Franklin Lane, a former secretary of the interior, delivered a 1914 Flag Day address in which he repeated words he said the flag had spoken to him that morning. “I am what you make me, nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.” 

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email address is r.morris@ctvean.net

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