For many, the flag symbolizes the country’s untamable spirit, a physical manifestation of American esprit de corps. But what happens to an American flag that has become tattered and worn? What happens when Old Glory loses a little pomp off its circumstance?
For Roland Steyart, 17, an Eagle Scout sporting a full complement of merit badges across his chest, there is one correct answer: The flag is displayed, then folded, then retired in a hot fire. It is saluted during incineration, or the national anthem is sung. The ceremony is somber. This is not child’s play. Retiring a flag is funereal business.
Many people, however, don’t know the protocol. They dump old flags at thrift stores — or worse, in the trash. Disposing of worn flags in this way isn’t criminal, exactly, but it’s an affront to the symbol and the people who revere it.
So Steyart put his mind to finding a solution for the problem, and the form his idea took is now bolted to the ground outside the Veterans Memorial Building. The new “American Flag Repository” is an old USPS collection mailbox, sandblasted and repainted with wind-borne stars and stripes. Medallions representing the five U.S. military branches are emblazoned across its front: Marines, Navy, Air Force, Army, and Coast Guard.
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