Originally created 07/05/99

Legionnaires burn old, retired flags during ceremony



They were more rags than flags, the Old Glories that some local veterans ignited Sunday.

Their reds long had faded to pinks, and their whites sometimes were dingy with dust. Threads hung loose and frayed at their corners. No longer fit to flap above parks or police stations, graveyards or church grounds, these flags needed an honorable end to their service.

And so members of the region's American Legion posts disposed of the flags in the manner preferred by the nation's flag code -- burning.

During a ceremony attended by about 50 people -- including U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood and Augusta Mayor Bob Young -- legionnaires saluted the banners before dousing them in kerosene and setting them ablaze.

Within minutes, fire swallowed dozens of flags, their colors visible only briefly through tongues of flame that rendered them into common piles of ash.

"We've had a lot of people say they had some of them in a drawer, or a closet full of them," said Brad Masterson, commander of American Legion Post No. 178, which held the ceremony at its headquarters off Richmond Hill Road. "They don't know what to do with them."

Legionnaires from 12 posts collected more than 300 pounds of flags for the ceremony, Mr. Masterson said. The post prepared three months for the event, he said.

Mr. Norwood, R-Evans, spoke of his efforts to protect the flag from those who would burn or desecrate it as a political statement.

For years, Mr. Norwood has worked to pass an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting flag burning. His latest effort has passed the House of Representatives and awaits a vote in the Senate.

"We are going to win that, even if it takes a few years," Mr. Norwood vowed to the crowd. He later spoke of the difficulty of getting the plan through the Senate, which must pass any proposed constitutional amendment by a two-thirds majority for it to be sent to the states for ratification.

"I don't know whether the Senate is going to pass it in the right numbers or not, but I'm sure going to count heads if they don't," Mr. Norwood said. "It will be very interesting to see who does and doesn't vote against it."

Some veterans said after the event that people don't respect the flag as much as they once did.

"I've always honored it since I was in the first grade, and learned what the flag was for," said Harvard Jones, commander of Legion Post No. 94 in Sandersville, Ga. "I've never dishonored the U.S. flag.

"A lot of people don't honor it any more, and it makes me had to see it."

Legion Post No. 178 will hold a similar ceremony for next year's July 4 holiday, Mr. Masterson said. Anyone with a flag that requires disposal can drop it off at the post for the 2000 ceremony, he said.

Brandon Haddock can be reached at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com.