For 19 years, American Legion G.I. Joe Post 244 in Jeffersontown, Ky., has been conducting an annual flag retirement ceremony on a scale not typical for most Legion posts. And for the past 10 years, – six-plus years of that as post commander – Legionnaire Kurt Hall has been involved with the ceremony.
In that time, Hall estimates the post has retired well over 200,000 flags – most recently, 25,000 were disposed of honorably in June. “We have always had at least 20,000, so it grew pretty rapidly from when (the post) started,” he said.
Hall said part of the large number can be attributed to the Oates Flag Company in Jeffersontown, whose owner was a member of Post 244. People would send flags in to be repaired, and if they were beyond repair the company would bring the flags to the post for retirement.
And as word got out about the post’s efforts, flags began to pour in from all over the country. “We’ll get a box of flags in the mail … that have come from other posts in Massachusetts and Minnesota,” Hall said. “After (a recent USA Today article) we received a box that had some flags in it that a company had sent from Maryland. Whenever the story gets out, people will get interested for a while and we’ll be getting flags from all over the country.”
Hull said the ceremonies typically happen the weekend prior to or after Flag Day. The day before the ceremony pallets are stacked on the ground on farmland owned by Post 244 member Hugh Colbert. The flags are placed on the pallets and soaked with an accelerant – usually diesel fuel – overnight. The sizes of the flags range in size, all the way up to a garrison flag (30 feet by 60 feet) provided by a local car dealership and the county fairgrounds.
A 20-minute ceremony that includes Post 244’s color guard, a rifle volley from members of a local VFW post and the playing of Taps follows the next day. Then the flags are lit, usually by one of Colbert’s sons or a guest of the post. Dozens of area residents show up to watch the retirement take place.
“We try to make it as ceremonial as we can,” Hall said. “We want to make sure they’re properly disposed and not just thrown away.”
The ceremony is emotional for Hall, a Vietnam War Army veteran. “It’s almost like going to a funeral, a veteran’s funeral,” he said. “You think about the Americans who died fighting for the flag. I’m sure they felt the same way. It’s almost like burying a brother in arms.”
Showing the proper way to retire the U.S. flag also provides Post 244 a way to educate others about Old Glory. “In the past we’ve gone into elementary schools and middle schools trying to teach them flag etiquette: proper display of the flag, its disposal, the 13 folds,” Hall said. “And the kids are interested in that. We want to make sure that they have the same respect for the flag that we do.”
The 2020 ceremony will mark the 20th anniversary of the post’s annual event. “We’re going to try to do it up bigger and better,” Hall said. “We’ve got a few programs we’re working, trying to get a larger number of flags in from around the country. We want to make it as big as we can.”