Legion retires over 100 flags

Local members of American Legion Post No. 55 watch as an American flag burns Sunday during a Flag Day ceremony in which more than 100 flags were retired. (GAZETTE PHOTO/Karla Toomer)

KEMMERER — The story of one Old Glory being retired should be similar to most others, respectfully and with dignity. “I pledge allegiance to the flag” does not end at the front of the parade or beginning of a ball game. The words “… indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” are words that carry many of us through our daily lives in the United States of America. They are a resounding pledge that reflects collective goals, although our values in reaching those goals are diverse.

How a flag earns its retirement is as diverse as the areas they hang. High school gymnasiums, Boys Scout troops, military parades, and your front porch all hold stories that lead to the wearing and tattering of a flag.

The American flag came to be called Old Glory when Captain William Driver, a shipmaster from Massachusetts, loved the flag his mother and others made him when he assumed command of his own ship. He kept the 17-foot by 10-foot flag safe from confederates during the Civil War, and it now hangs in the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.

On Flag Day, Sunday, June 14, over 100 flags of the United States of America were collected to be retired in Kemmerer by American Legion Post No. 55. The ceremony was well supported by people of all ages. Janelle Sawaya sang a beautiful rendition of our national anthem and then Commander Robert Bowen presented her with a plaque and thanked her for always being available to the post when they need her.

A flag was presented, inspected, saluted and retired into a burning fire. The first flag received a 21-gun salute and a beautiful rendition of “Taps.” After that, flags were brought up one at a time to be retired.

The story of one of the flags from Sunday was from Bill and Goldie Keithley. The Keithley’s were longtime residents of Diamondville. They both died in 1991 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. About a decade after they passed, a friend got possession of a flag from the Keithley family home.

The flag was old and unserviceable, and the new owner kept it, waiting for a proper time to retire it from service. When the America Legion Post No. 55 sent a notice that it would be providing this service, the Keithley flag was brought out. It was saluted and retired, along with many others on a warm, breezy Flag Day in Wyoming.

Stan Cooper, former longtime state senator, was a participant in the events of the day. He reminded people, “There is a mailbox by Radley’s store. It is red and colorful with stars and blue stripes. It is a repository for old flags that need to be retired. The local postmaster is also a member of the Legion and he checks the container, and it’s a good thing because occasionally people put their mail in there.” He said they check the box so people’s mail can get on its way, “It’s a neat looking little box, but it’s not a mailbox.”

Jerry Hess was also a participant in Sunday’s ceremony. Hess is a Vietnam veteran who was shot down two times in nine days from a helicopter. He spent 13 months in the hospital.

“I think it’s important to be patriotic,” Hess said. “I’ve been a member many years, but only active the past four to five years. I always paid my dues, but I should have started sooner.”

Although Hess is a Purple Heart recipient, he said he’s no hero.

“I was a crew member, a gunner on a helicopter,” Hess said. “I wasn’t any kind of hero. I just went where they took me.” The definition of a true hero is, in part, someone who is distinguished by courage. Many say that definition fits Hess, even if he doesn’t see it that way.

The American Legion Post No. 55 will make the metal grommets from the retired flags available for anyone who wishes to have some. They will be at Sawayas.

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