Scouts and Community Attend Flag Burning - but it's a Retirement Ceremony, not a Protest


Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. David Lamb places a retired flag into the fire as Boy Scouts from Westwood's Troop 3 look on.

Thanks to the eagle eye of David Lamb, a Thurston Middle School computer science teacher, and members of Westwood’s Boy Scout Troop 3, about forty worn, torn, or badly faded American flags have been given a dignified end and respectful retirement from service.

Perhaps not many people are aware that the U.S. Flag Code proscribes that, “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

“If a flag is going to be flown, then it should be flown respectfully. Or you can make a choice to not fly it,” said Mr. Lamb.

Mr. Lamb, an Eagle Scout, had noticed the tattered and worn appearance of flags at Westwood’s middle school. He requested permission from the school’s administration to reach out to students who might be interested in helping with the project of respectfully retiring the flags. After he was cleared for the project, in Mr. Lamb reached out to Thurston eighth grader Boy Scouts Charlie Goodman and Liam LaCroix. They, in turn, reached out to friend and fellow scout Liam Hayes and their troop leaders.

“The project was overwhelmingly led by the scouts themselves, with periodic check-ins to do an assessment of the rooms, walking around to all the classes, taking notes, getting a number count," said Mr. Lamb. “And then we waited several months because that’s the way things work these days,” he noted, referring to supply chain delays for obtaining new flags to replace the ones being retired.

Eventually, they replaced about forty worn and tattered flags at Thurston with new ones. Then, on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 at 5:00 p.m., Mr. Lamb, Troop 3, and a small group of family, school, and community members gathered together at the fire circle outside First Baptist Church of Westwood to observe and participate in a flag retirement ceremony.

First Baptist Church is the regular meeting place for Troop 3. The Robert E. Smith Fire Circle, located a few paces into the woods that begin at the edge of the church’s parking lot, is where the troop typically gathers in good weather. The fire circle itself was built in 2015 by Eagle Scout Ian Moscaritolo as a service project. It is named in honor of one of the founders of Troop 3.

At the ceremony, a stone-ringed pit held hot, jumping flames while Troop 3 scouts presented the colors and took turns reading words about the American flag. Red is for the life blood of those who stand ready to die for their country. White stripes are purity. The blue field stands for truth and justice. The fifty stars within the blue field are the fifty sovereign states of the union.

Boy Scout Sean Rideout, a tenth grader at Norfolk County Agricultural High School, quoted the American’s Creed, stating, “It is my duty to my country to love it, to respect its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.”

Liam LaCroix followed that statement by noting that therefore, the American flag is deserving of respect and should not be allowed to become worn, torn or badly faded.

Charlie Goodman and Liam Lacroix each carefully cut a flag in a proscribed pattern, separating the field of blue from the stripes, before cutting the stripes. 

They placed their cut pieces of flag into the flames. 

Next, they invited scouts and community members in attendance to also retire additional flags by placing them into the fire.

Dedications were offered:

-Troop leader Darren Valentine dedicated his retired flag to military members from Troop 3, his son Cameron Valentine and John Roger, and also to his stepfather, Private First Class Retired Jack O'Malley, a 93 year-old Westwood resident.

-Sean Rideout dedicated a retired flag to his grandfathers who served in World War II and the Korean War. 

-Charlie Goodman honored those who fought and were killed in the Vietnam War.

-Westwood Public Schools Superintendent Emily Parks retired a flag in honor of her grandfather, John Wilson, who served in the Navy in World War II.

-David Lamb honored his grandfather in World War II along with his father who enlisted in Vietnam “but stayed back to care for his wife.”

-Jennifer Teahan, a Thurston Middle School Math Teacher and Westwood Track Club’s president, remembered her grandfather, Andrew Murphy, who served in the Korean War.

-Assistant Superintendent Allison Borchers honored a family member who fought as a foot soldier in Germany in World War II.

- Other community members honored grandfathers who fought in Vietnam and Germany.

- One gentleman honored his father who served in the Coast Guard in World War II, his great uncle who served in the 104th Infantry Yankee Division in World War I, and another great uncle Joe O'Neill, who was a battleship sailor in that same war.

When all flags had been added to the fire, the group remained watching to ensure no remnants remained. 

The Color Guard exited, as the Scouts and veterans saluted.

“This marks the end of respectfully closing out the old, tired, tattered flags that have been in the building for who knows how long,” said Mr. Lamb. He remarked that the entire process had taken from November 2021 until now, June 2022, to finally be completed.

Asked whether he would take on the project of retiring other flags in town, Mr. Lamb noted his interest but a limitation of time. He suggested that a collaboration involving local scouts and community groups would be the way to do it for someone interested in the project. It requires a commitment of time and effort, and dealing with supply chain interruptions.

“It’s enjoyable working with Mr. Lamb,” said Charlie Goodman, “and making an impact in the community. . . . Being respectful of the flag is a great thing. It’s an opportunity to make a difference in the community.” He advises others that when they see something they want to change, they should take the initative to do it.

Liam LeCroix agreed. “I’m proud and happy to make a difference.”

Sean Rideout added, “It’s important and respectful because it honors those who fell for the flag,” he said.

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