What So Proudly We Hailed
Mike was the first one out the door. The sun was just beginning to set and it was time. He walked alone to the front of the station. Slightly pushing his hat back, he looked up.
Mike was soon followed by his 5 shift-mates. He was pleased to see that they had followed his lead and put on their dress uniforms. In unison, the men looked up and reverently admired the sight before them.
“She’s served us well.” Mike spoke with pride in his voice. It was Mike, after all, who saw to her every shift. In fact, it was Mike who noticed it was time to retire her.
“That she has. And now, it’s time to retire her with respect. Men, attention.” Cap led the salute of Station 51’s Old Glory. Crisply saluting the flag and returning his right hand to his side, his men followed.
Mike approached the flagpole and began lowering the flag. A golden beam from the setting sun seemed to focus on the flag and the men her were tending to her.
Roy, Marco, and Chet removed their caps and held them over their hearts. Cap stepped forward and grasped the stripes as they lowered to shoulder level. Johnny stepped up to grasp first the stripes then the stars as Mike removed the flag from its lanyards. Johnny handed the end of the flag to Mike and, removing his hat and placing it over his heart, stepped back to join Roy, Marco, and Chet.
Cap and Mike made precise work of folding the flag. Holding the flag by the top corners, the men brought the bottom half up – covering the stars. They then folded the flag lengthwise again, this time bringing the top down so that the stars were again showing. Ten folds later and the flag was perfectly folded in a triangular shape with only the blue star field showing.
Mike held the folded flag in front of his as he silently carried it to the area he had prepared behind the building. The rest of A-Shift followed in silence.
As Mike lit the fire, all men became lost in thought.
Cap’s eyes glazed over as he thought of his family. Thank God that I can raise my daughters in freedom. I can offer them all the world has to give because I am lucky enough to live in the United States of America.
Roy thought back to many times in his life when the flag played an important role. I fought for you in war, Old Glory, and I’d do it again today if need be. A smile crossed his face as he recalled a recent trip to his children’s school. I was so proud of Chris and Jenny leading the Pledge of Allegiance in the school’s Flag Day program. There were so many children – children whose parents are doctors, lawyers, businessmen – but the kids voted for the children of the firemen and policemen to lead the Pledge. God Bless America.
Marco pictured his relatives and especially his mom. Gracias, Dios. My family was allowed to come to this great country and enjoy all the opportunities it holds. This flag before me stands for all that is fair and right in this country that is my home.
Chet smiled. Thank you for representing a place where even The Phantom is allowed to lurk. Where we are free to do as we wish and say what we want to say. Where we can believe what we want to believe. And, where despite our differences, we all can live as brothers and sisters. Where we can all get along as long as we choose to. And, thankfully, as a whole, we most often do choose to get along. You represent all of us.
Mike looked at the flag burning before him. We mended you several times, ol’ girl. I’ve even stitched you myself. You did serve us well. And, I hope, we served you well. It’s been an honor to care for you. And, it’s an honor to be the one to retire you.
Johnny couldn’t help but shake his head. Where else but in the U.S. could a boy raised on an Indian reservation grow up to proudly serve the people of one of the largest cities in the country. Where else could a person with a different upbringing be welcomed by a group of such diverse individuals. And, all the time know that no matter what the race, religion, or heritage, we would ‘cover each others’ backs’ and stand together as one. Old Glory, you represent that and more. We, not only as firemen but as Americans, all unite before you – and because of you.
As the final embers of the flag burned down, all of the men had the exact same thought. Thank God, Old Glory, that we were able to honor you with this retirement ceremony rather than see you leave this station draped on the coffin of one of our Station 51 brothers.
The men remained silent as Mike brushed the ashes into a box. In the morning, fittingly on July 4, the ashes would be buried below the flag at the LA County Fire Department Headquarters as was tradition within the department. There, another group of firemen would give thanks for their own reasons and in their own ways. But, the end offering of thanks would be the same as all of the men of 51 felt tonight.
Mike carried the box of ashes into the dayroom and placed it on the counter. Before heading to the dorm with the rest of the guys, he paused and touched the folded form of the new flag that he would raise in the morning. God Bless America!
Author’s note: The description above of retiring a flag is in accordance with U.S. Flag Code. According to the code, a flag can be mended when torn or frayed but must be retired when faded. Rather than burning the flag yourself, you can contact your local VFW. If they don’t collect the flags for burning during a community retirement service, they can direct you to other organizations in your area that do.