The air smelled as though it were on fire Sunday.
Outside the Knights of Columbus headquarters on Monte Sano Avenue, a dozen Knights and their wives gathered to retire American flags by burning them, the proper way to dispose of soiled or old flags.
"It's showing proper respect," said fourth-degree Knight Ed Smith."So many of our members have served in the armed forces ... so we feel it's our patriotic duty."
For the past three years, the members have held a similar ceremony, but this year they pushed the event back from Independence Day to Columbus Day so that the weather would be cooler.
To begin the proceedings, five fourth-degree Knights, dressed in tuxedos with sashes and insignia, stood in a line with swords raised.
Then Mr. Smith led the attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer before unfolding the first flag and dipping it into the flame-filled metal receptacle.
With that flag in hand, he dedicated the ceremony to "those in harm's way in Iraq right now."
Carla Huebner, a member of the ladies auxiliary, said that, as a veteran of the gulf war, she became emotional at that moment so she spoke out with one word: "Amen."
The Knights in attendance took turns placing the remaining flags in the flames throughout the afternoon.
The flags had been brought to the group for disposal by area churches, schools and families.
At the end of the day, the ashes were buried beneath the flagpole behind the Knights of Columbus building as an act of respect.
John Quinn, a fourth-degree Knight, said the Augusta Knights are a patriotic order, so retiring the flags properly was a way to show their patriotism and to educate people to not throw away old flags.
"A lot of people don't understand," he said. "We try to retire the flags the way they should be."
Formed in 1882, the Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic men's organization in the world. There are now 12,000 councils and more than 6 million members worldwide. The Augusta headquarters is at 1501 Monte Sano Ave.
Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.