Old Glory: A Grand Old Flag

Remember some years ago in middle school when you stood up with the class and the pledge of allegiance slipped easily out of your mouth as your hand found the left side by your heart? People say the purpose was to salute a flag, a piece of cloth representing a country. It is a piece of living history that never dies but transcends generations. In times of casualties, the flag flies half mast to signify a death. Great loss reverberates throughout the nation. When a soldier dies far away at war, his family receives the flag after a ceremonial show of transforming it into a triangle as the crowd is reminded that his loss is remembered through his heroic deeds. But what is the significance of a triangular flag? The reasoning for this ceremony lays in obscurity, although several ideas come to mind.

Foreman Charles “Wink” Batts placing a retired flag into the fire

During the Revolutionary War, General Washington and his company wore tricorn hats with brimmed sides and three corners turned up. Another story finds its origin at sea. As early as 1824, a ship captain from New England was gifted with a flag as a show of reverence to the captain and a wish for safe voyage. As a way to consecrate the flag, it was blessed in the name of the Christian Trinity by a high power of the church and folded into a triangle. As the Church invoked the Our Father prayer, the small congregation uttered, “glory” in return. The captain flew the flag high and told the crew, “I’ll call her old glory.” It is said that perhaps later on he folded the flag in a triangle when he presented a replica to the Ohio 6th Infantry who adopted “Old Glory” as their flag.

The “Write a Letter to a Soldier” program created by Oakwood Cemetery’s Summer Intern, Callaway King. Letters are sent to soldiers serving overseas.

So much symbolism and patriotism encompass the American flag. What is more unique is that folding it into a triangle is not a requirement by the United States Flag Code. It can be stored away so long as it is done in a manner that is appropriate and respectful without inflicting damage to the cloth.

On Veteran’s Day, Oakwood Cemetery found a number of guests attending the Flag Retirement Ceremony. The purpose honored the United States flag as it weathers with age and wear from usage. However, age doesn’t mean throwing things away. Rather, Old Glory is retired with decorum and regard.
Flags adorning the Field of Honor

To start the ceremony, the flag is parted into several pieces. This makes for an easier incineration as the flag rests in fire, a symbol of rebirth. Ceasing to be a flag, the material becomes individual stripes of red and white, representing the 13 colonies. The blue background and white stars remain intact to show the the union’s will to never separate.

imageEntrance to Oakwood Cemetery

A speech called “Remember Me?” was read aloud as people returned to nostalgia about Old Glory and what patriotism meant. As the speech came to a close, the names of the colonies rang out as each fragment of cloth found the fire. Lastly, the blue field of white stars ended the retirement of the flag. Veterans and active military members carried triangular flags and placed them in the fire. Other members of the audience were also asked to indulge in the honor.

imageInterns Sandy Nguyen and Callaway King performing the flag retirement ceremony. King holds strips of the flag and reads the names of the original 13 colonies while Nguyen places each piece into the fire.

Grand salutes made way to remember those who fought wars and never came home. It also honored those who lived to see a brighter day with the end of war and continued their lives.

imageMoments before the ceremony