Anaheim Fire & Rescue personnel, fire personnel from neighboring cities and several members of Anaheim VFW Post 3173 gathered Tuesday, June 21 at the North Net Training Center for the centuries-old ritual of retiring unserviceable American flags.
More than 2,000 U.S. flags, from miniature versions half the size of a sheet of paper to the massive flags that hang on the sides of buildings, and all sizes in between, were incinerated individually.
The number of flags was roughly four times greater than the number of flags retired last year, which was the first time the VFW and Anaheim Fire & Rescue partnered for the ceremony.
“The flag is the symbol of this nation, so this is our way of respecting the flag and retiring it honorably,” said Gary Mason of the Anaheim VFW post. “It’s kind of like a funeral. It’s the best way I can put it.”
A dozen veterans and fire personnel watched as Anaheim Fire & Rescue Explorers dropped folded flags, one by one, into one of five burning canisters.
But before a single flag was dropped into the flames, the crowd recited the Pledge of Allegiance and Anaheim VFW Post Commander Ernesto Ramirez shared some words with the attendees — words that have been spoken at past flag burning ceremonies.
“A flag may be a flimsy bit of printed gauze or a beautiful banner of finest silk,” Ramirez said. “Its intrinsic value may be trifling or great, but its real value is beyond price, for it is a precious symbol of all that our service men and women have worked for, lived for and died for.”
The flags were collected from drop-off bins that are situated at every library in Anaheim. Flags also could be dropped off directly at the VFW post.
“We had people from as far as Dana Point and San Clemente that dropped off at our post,” Mason said.
Only American flags are burned as part of the ceremony — flags that typically are too tattered or torn to fly on a flag pole.
Insuring that U.S. flags are properly disposed of is of paramount importance to Mike Lynn, a Vietnam veteran and VFW member.
“So many years, we saw it desecrated and we’ve been silent for too many years,” Lunn said. “There are too many people who don’t respect the flag.”
Groups on hand for the event were Anaheim Fire & Rescue Engine 9, Garden Grove Fire, Battalion 1 and Engine 6; and City of Orange Fire Explorers.
Cpt. J.R. Fitzgerald, a 30-year veteran of Anaheim Fire & Rescue, said of his group of Explorers who assisted in the ceremony, “It’s a great opportunity to work along local veterans as part of their life-learning skills.”
The captain also praised the veterans on hand who fought for what the flag represents.
“Let’s face it,” Fitzgerald said. “Without any of these veterans, none of us would be here right now.”