Don't Miss This
Updated 06/14/12 – 3:50 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A plume of super-hot yellow flames and thick black smoke flared from 7,000 burning American flags, for a ceremonial retirement of old, fading, and tattered flags in honor of Flag Day.
It was conducted by U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Chicago Ald. James Balcer (11th) at 41st and Packer in the Stock Yard’s industrial district.
The worn and tattered flags were collected from city buildings, and residents who placed them in drop boxes across the city.
“It’s a proper way to retire them,” said Lipinski. “It’s always ironic that it was always burning the flag that was a way to protest. But burning it properly is the way according to the law that we properly retire them.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody Reports
Also watching was retired U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Griffin and his daughter. Griffin received a Purple Heart after he was wounded during a firefight in Iraq.
“We always have a flag. The flag never goes down in front of my house,” he said. “Once you serve in the military, you learn a different type of respect for the American flag. You salute it as you walk by, you stand at attention when they raise it and lower it every day.”
Balcer, a Vietnam veteran, has hosted a flag retirement ceremony on Flag Day for the past 20 years.
“I always think of the bodies coming home, of those that were killed in the military, and veterans in flag-draped coffins, how much the flag means,” Balcer said. “It isn’t just a piece of cloth, it is the very symbol of our nation.”
Before the flags were burned, Balcer had representatives of each service branch cut stars from the field of a flag, the first step toward ceremonial disposal of worn flags.
Then a Chicago fireman poured gasoline over five gigantic cardboard boxes filled with the 7,000 flags collected from all over Chicago.
“You can’t throw them away. This is a very dignified ceremony,” Balcer said.
A bugler sounded “Taps” as flames turned the worn out flags into ashes in a gravel lot, southwest of Chicago’s Loop.
The ashes from the flag retirement ceremony will be buried in the exact spot where they were burned.
Balcer also reminded those at the ceremony that Thursday also marks the 237th anniversary of the U.S. Army.