When a U.S. flag becomes unserviceable — too tattered, torn or faded to be flown — it’s disposed of in a manner prescribed by the Code of Laws of the United States.
The code states that the flag, “when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
The State College Elks, along with the State College American Legion Post 245, handle the duty of flag disposal each year in a ceremony typically held at the Pennsylvania Military Museum. The ceremony also marks Flag Day, celebrated every June 14.
Such a ceremony was held Sunday night, though owing to weather, the ceremony had to be moved indoors to the Boalsburg Fire Company.
The Continental Congress adopted the stars and stripes pattern of the flag in 1777, former Elks ruler and master of ceremonies Judge Bradley P. Lunsford said. Flag Day was first celebrated in 1877, on the centennial anniversary of the flag, and was signed into national observance by Harry Truman in 1949.
Bellefonte Elks member Amanda Mulfinger gave a history of the flag’s many permutations as area Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts paraded an example of each flag.
“Caring for banners has been a custom of all people in all ages,” she said. “Banners usually contained some concept of life or government of the people that fashioned them.”
The U.S. flags marked the progressions of the government of the American people, she said. From the briefly used pine tree flag in 1775 to the red, white and blue of the 13 stripes and 50 stars we know today, the flag has taken several shapes over the centuries.
The flag represents the heritage of the people of the U.S., State College Elks treasurer Lisa Schroeder said. The flag raised at Iwo Jima was the same flag raised by a trio of firefighters in the ruins of the World Trade Center after 9/11.
“The greatest significance, however, of the flag lies in the influence it has on the hearts and minds of millions of people,” she said.
It has waved over the unparalleled progress of the nation and served as the beacon for millions, she said.
Penn State applied physicist and keynote speaker Dan Merdes said he was asked what the flag means to him. We all hold the flag dear, he said, because it’s the symbol of the nation.
“We revere our flag because it stands for the ideas on which our country was founded and for ourselves as a people,” he said.
Merdes, a retired Navy captain, said the citizens of the nation owe all who serve or have served a great deal of gratitude.
The retirement of the flag was performed by members of the American Legion with ceremonial assistance by Marine Corps League Nittany Leatherneck Detachment.
Since the ceremony was held indoors, the actual disposal of any unserviceable flags would likely be held during a private ceremony a few months from now, legion post commander Mary Werdal said.