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The Last Hurrah for the American Flag

Each year around Flag Day on June 14, American Legion Post 419 in Santa Clara gathers a year’s accumulation of tattered, faded American flags—filling 15 to 20, 30-gallon garbage bags—for delivery to Oak Hill Memorial Park, 300 Curtner Rd., San Jose.

It is the last hurrah for these worn-out flags, which community members drop into the white, standing flag box (looks like an old corner mailbox) outside Post 419 at 958 Homestead Rd. Following the American Legion’s solemn Ceremony for the Disposal of Unserviceable Flags, this year on June 11 at 11 a.m., the flags are burned.

The American Legion Flag Day Ceremony for Santa Clara County, which lasts under an hour, is arranged by the leadership of American Legion District 13, which comprises 12 posts. The ceremony is meant to retire unserviceable flags with dignity.

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During the ceremony, held around a flagpole in the central Veterans’ Section of Oak Hill Memorial Park, three rifles stand on end with bayonets crossed at the top, cradling a metal helmet. Inside the helmet, a flag burns.

“Our flag is the most symbolic emblem of our nation; many have died for it; many have adopted it,” said U.S. Army veteran Gene Fanucchi, District 13 adjutant from Willow Glen Post 318. “We recognize it as America, the land of the free, home of the brave. It deserves a respectful and honorable retirement.”

Hundreds of worn flags—perhaps a thousand—are collected annually from throughout District 13. Also, individuals are encouraged to bring unserviceable flags to the ceremony.

Then on a later day, the collected flags are burned over several hours in a concrete container at the memorial park, supervised by District 13 veterans. The ashes are buried. Burning, whether in a public ceremony or privately, is the only respectful way to dispose of an unserviceable flag.

“To me, the flag is the United States of America. When we pledge our allegiance, we pledge our allegiance to our nation,” said U.S. Navy veteran Gene Grundstrom, a District 13 honor guard and Post 419 adjutant.

“The flag is a symbol of what this country is about,” said U.S. Air Force veteran Sunny Dosanjh, Post 419 chaplain. “For military veterans who took the oath to protect U.S. borders, it represents duty, honor, courage and sacrifice. The greatest honor for the flag and all it represents is when it’s placed on a coffin.”

American Legion Post 419’s biggest fundraiser of the year is its annual classic car show, also on June 11 this year, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The show generates $4,000 to $6,000 yearly to support services and nonprofit organizations for veterans.

“Since the flag’s creation, people of the United States and people throughout the world, have recognized that piece of cloth as a symbol of true freedom, opportunity, and democracy,” said Fanucchi.

“As long as you see a flag flying, it’s a symbol of hope,” said Dosanjh. “You don’t want it to fall. We must keep it raised, representing all of us. We hope whoever it flies over are safe and can enjoy the freedom it represents.”

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