Star Spangled Banner
May 16-18, 2003
Stearns Scout Camp
With the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq I decided to go with a more Patriotic theme for this Camporee. Originally it was just going to be based entirely around model rockets but I changed it to a flag based event with a model rocket launch as part of it. I worked real hard to get participation from the various military services and was disappointed at the turnout. They had been telling me all along that "mission requirements" might force them to not show up, but what ended up happening was just that they just didn't show up. We ended up with 2 from the Marines and 5 from the Air Force, of which they only stayed until lunch. The Army and the Navy just didn't bother to show up, both of whom had committed to being there as of the week before. Needless to say, being an Army vet I was a little disappointed.
I had the idea that we should do a flag retirement ceremony as part of this event. Then I thought about it and decided we should do a "Mass Flag Retirement Ceremony" instead. I started gathering flags from Troops, as well as car dealerships, cemeteries, and the like. I also started looking around for a good ceremony to use, since I had never done anything like this before. I found that nothing gets people riled up like the thought of someone not doing a flag retirement the way they think that the flag retirement ceremony should be done. I had people tell me categorically that you "HAVE" to cut up the flag before it is burned. Others think that it is a sacrilege to cut a flag up at all. Others tried to tell me that you have to place the flag on the fire unfurled, and so on, and so on. After a great deal of research I found that the only authoritative document is the US Code, which states "When a flag is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be retired in a dignified manner. Preferably by burning". That is it. I would have long arguments with people who thought that there had to be some specific way of doing it. When I asked them to show me documentation on why it had to be done in a specific way no one could, it was just "That's the way I have always done it". I will describe how we ended up doing it below.
Pictures (lots of pics, takes awhile to load on a slow link)
What went not so good:
As I stated above the military turnout was very poor. In addition to the fact that I had been kind of depending on them to run certain events, I had been promoting it to the Scouts as well, so they were disappointed at how few there were. If you are planning on people from outside of Scouting as part of your event you need to have a backup plan in case they don't show up.
The Air Force was going to do a Flag Raising Ceremony for us to start the event. Unfortunately 2 showed up in BDU's and 3 in Class A's, so that looked kind of funny to start with. Then to make matters worse we had a slight mixup with the flag. The night before when we were sorting flags to be retired we found a beautiful flag in mint condition that we decided to use for the flag raising since it was better than the ones that the camp had. I asked a couple of my staff to go out and make sure that the grommets fit the rope on the flag pole. "Yep, it fits", they said. Hmmm. This will teach me to double check things. The next day when the AF people march up to the flag and prepare to raise it, lo and behold there are no grommets on the flag at all, it was an indoor flag! Things were hectic for a little while before we could find a suitable replacement. This was a good lesson for me as well, in the future I will double check stuff like that.
For our Flags of the World event we had 2 pieces of poster boards with the flags taped to them. We had the answers underneath covered with tape. Inside it wasn't a problem but when we took the poster boards outside with the bright sunlight on them, the answers shone right through the tape. Next time I will cover the answers in something a little thicker.
We had some difficulties getting the rockets out to the Troops. Since we wanted to have all of the rockets made in advance of the Camporee we tried to get them out to the Troops weeks in advance. There were a few mixups with pre-registrations, and then we got a couple boxes of the wrong rockets, and so on till I wondered why I decided to do this in the first place.
What went good:
The rocket launching went great. We ended up launching over 200 rockets that day. We had a local rocket club come out and handle all of that for us. They brought two launchers that could launch up to 8 rockets at a time so there was no difficulty getting all of the Scouts a chance to fire their rockets. They also launched some big ones that the club members and the staff had brought along.
The obstacle course run worked out pretty good. The two Marines present would compete against all of the boys, while they did relays with 6 or 8, the Marines did it with two. The Scouts all agreed that they were pretty tough for being so old, (the Marines were probably mid to late 30's and in better shape than the vast majority of the Scouts will ever be in their lives).
The Water Balloon Toss worked out pretty good. The Scouts enjoyed getting a little wet since it was kind of hot that day.
The highlight to the whole affair was the Mass Flag Retirement Ceremony. I had managed to gather around 20 flags or so when I talked with a friend of mine who is in both the VFW and the American Legion. He asked me how many flags I wanted, and I replied "As many as I can get". "How many is too many"? he asked. "There is no such thing as too many". "How about 400 flags". he said. "Ok, that's too many", I replied. Well I ended up taking all of his flags after all. I came up with a pretty good way to move the ceremony along but still do it in a dignified manner. My friend had given me all of the flags in about 7 huge boxes, they had all just been stuffed into them when they were dropped off at the VFW or Legion. Friday night at the Camporee as my staff arrived I set them to pulling the flags out and sorting them by size, and then folding them up. Imagine our surprise when we found that instead of 400 flags we had around 7 of the huge "Perkins" flags and around 100 of various other sizes. As you can see from the pictures it took up to 20 Scouts to fold the big ones up. We decided Friday night that we should test burn one of the large flags just to see how it would work during the ceremony. It was a good thing we tried it because the large flag folded up was approximately 8 feet from tip to tip, as well as around 2 feet thick. When we place it on the fire (which was pretty good size) it almost smothered it completely, and then it took forever to burn. Sending up huge thick plumes of oily smoke. We decided then and there to retire all of the huge flags Friday night with just the staff.
Saturday morning I called my friend at the VFW again and he went down and got us more big boxes of flags, this time checking to make sure that they weren't all the huge ones, then he brought them all out to the camp. After I had my staff sort them and fold them we brought them down to the OA ring. There we placed 3 tables and sorted the flags so that there were roughly the same amount on each table. We then erected a large flag pole using the camp's pioneering poles at the back of the ring which we lit up by using 3 car lights and a battery. We then made 3 large fire lays in the OA ring's 3 fire pits, each getting 2 large bags of charcoal before any wood was put on it.
After the regular campfire was over Saturday night we started the flag retirement ceremony. We started by having the staff do a flag raising, on the flag pole we had erected, using a large 48 star flag that we had found in the boxes. After that was done we had the staff demonstrate to all present how the flag retirement was going to be done. We then had all of the veterans in the crowd come forward and retire one flag. We gave them all of the large ones that we had remaining. After they were done, (and yes it took a little while for all of the large flags to burn down enough), we had the Scouts form 3 lines, one for each table and fire pit. As each Scout came up to a table he was presented with a flag, when it was his turn he would step up to the fire pit and lay the folded flag on top of it. He would then step back and salute the flag, after that he would resume his place in line. While this was going on I had good patriotic music playing softly in the background. We had one staff member placed at each fire with a long metal pole to make sure that as each flag was placed on the fire, that if any part of it was hanging off the edge he could make sure that it was entirely burned. They also monitored the pace at which the flags were being placed on the fires. We had a bunch of Cub Scouts there as well, we let them retire the smallest flags, such as the ones that come on the little wooden poles. I think that they really enjoyed being a part of the ceremony.
It took around 40 minutes to retire all of the flags. It was amazing watching the Scouts faces after they placed a flag on the fire and then stepped back and saluted it. I honestly believe that they were all getting how important this ceremony was. And with around 400 or so flags everyone present got a chance to retire a least 2 of them. When the flags on the tables were done we had the Scouts return to the seating area. We then had the staff do a flag lowering for the 48 star flag. They then symbolically folded it, to represent the last folding for all of the other flags that had been retired that evening. And then they unfurled it one last time and laid it on the fire unfurled, giving one last salute to it. In the morning I had the staff go out and dig out the grommets from the fires. They also filled up around 100 film canisters with ash (since we had done the ash ceremony to start the campfire), and then buried the rest of the ashes in a dignified ceremony. We place at least one grommet in each of the film canisters so that they flags would be a part future ceremonies.
The ceremony was a very moving experience. This was probably the quietest group of Scouts that you have come across in a long time (short of Ordeal Candidates). I would highly recommend that Troops (and Districts) work with their local VFW and Legions to help them retire flags that they may have. After 9/11, and the patriotic surge of flag buying, many flags are being turned in to these groups to be retired. My friend from the VFW said that we could do this every year and not run out of flags anytime soon. Evidently they have a whole basement full of boxes of flags. While in rural areas there might not be as many flags (there aren't car dealerships on every corner with 50 flags flying), I am sure that the local VFW or Legion would be happy to let you help retire the ones that they do have. I think, and they probably do as well, that patriotism is something that has to be nurtured from an early age, and that is exactly where Scouting comes in.
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