Flag rescue

Rescuing American flags from display and releasing them by retirement is an activity I take up in service to the spirits of this country. It’s my belief that these flags are infused with an amalgam of a great many spirits of this land, not just the ones connected to colonists and their descendants. I know that there are others who see things differently.

This flag was flown continuously over a machine shop for as long as a year, before I offered to replace it. To respect a flag is to inspect a flag, after bringing it in before dark, and repairing any damage.  Flags require care, as do any spirits.

This flag haunted me for many days before I was finally able to free it from its bondage. During my mother’s final days of life, I traveled to visit nearly every day; the trip takes about two hours. I would catch a flash of flag colors in my headlights on my way home each time, but I was always too tired to try to figure out if there was any way to access this pedestrian bridge. The day after my mother’s funeral, I took the trip one more time. I brought with me a variety of cutting tools, because I was not sure how this flag was secured to the fencing. My first problem was finding the flag on purpose. I was always very tired, and it was dark, and I never made note even of which road I was on when I spotted it. I knew I was headed northbound, but the two major north-south roads on my route were on different sides of the Whitestone bridge. I was nearly ready to write it off as hallucination before I found the location. After that, I had to do another smaller loop off and on the highway to get to a safe place to pull off, because by the time I saw the flag, the best exit was behind me. It was an access to a well-used waterside walking path, about half a mile from the pictured pedestrian bridge. When I headed out on foot I discovered that the section of path leading to my destination was closed for repaving. The temporary fence blocking my way extended to the berm along the shore, leading to a rather exciting rock scramble. The smell of the Long Island Sound filled my nose, and at times I wondered if I’d slip and fall in, perhaps braining my fool self in the process. I did not. My final obstacle was removing this poor wretch of a flag. It was secured with those evil plastic zip-ties, securely tightly enough against the chain links that I could not easily get any of my clippers in between. What I needed was a utility knife, but I had to make due. Tattered as it was, the flag was tangled and snarled worse than my hair when I locked it, and it took about 20 minutes to pull it down. All the while, I was fearful that I’d accidentally drop it to the ground below. There was also the possibility that a police officer would come to find out what I was all about, but that was a conversation I gladly would have had.

These flags were respectfully released from service; I attend a pagan conference every October where a flag retirement ceremony is held. Among the many misconceptions around flag lore is the belief that military members and veterans are uniquely qualified to retire flags; this is untrue. Anyone who reveres the ideals infused in the American flag may perform this final act, even those of us who are well aware how far short we are of achieving those ideals.

How we treat American flags is a reflection of our society. We actually have laid out the rules for proper conduct in law, but often the people who display flags are ignorant of how to do so with respect. Hanging one on an overpass is akin to leaving a prisoner’s body out for the crows. We can do better.

Even though anyone may retire a flag, I find that I enjoy collecting and retiring flags in a ceremony at a fire made sacred to the many gods and spirits of this land. Readers who possess flags beyond repair may always contact me for tips on conducting a respectful ceremony, or to arrange to send me a flag to retire.

This post comes from my accidental archives, also known as the drafts I forgot I had started and figured it’s high time I finish.

2 thoughts on “Flag rescue

  1. Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
    I think this is a beautiful ministry. I’m so glad that T.P. Ward posted about it here and I encourage you to head over and read the full article.


  2. I understand the impulse behind flag rescue. My condo neighbor flew a flag that eventually looked like the ones you depicted. He seemed perplexed as to what to do. I offered to get him a new flag and retire the old worn one.

    You are right about the sacredness of the flag, and the ceremony that is needed to retire it. I ended up doing the same thing you did with a ceremonial fire and ritual (Roman for me). Romans had rituals for retiring weapons and tubas so I used one of them.


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