4,000 flags burned in ceremony

“We have so many people in the military in our family,” said Sally Swearingen, whose husband is a Post 286 member.

She brought her grandchildren to help them learn the importance of the military.

“We’d like for them to be involved in this at some point,” Swearingen said, as the youngest member of the family — a granddaughter who will be 2 in August — sat on her lap.

More than 4,000 flags were disposed of during the annual ceremony, which started more than 20 years ago and is held every year on Flag Day at dusk.

“We’ve been doing this since the early 1990s and to my knowledge, it’s the largest American Legion event in Ohio,” said Harold Wade, Post 286 first vice-commander and a 24-year American Legion member.

Flags are collected throughout the year and kept until the ceremony.

The flags, Wade said, come from various organizations and individuals, including AmVets and VFW posts, Wright State University, an American Indian tribe and POW/MIA organizations.

One flag, he added, was more than 60 feet long and took six people to carry and hang up.

Team Fastrax, a professional skydiving team from Lebanon, Ohio, started the event with four parachutists landing in a field adjacent to the American Legion post, three of whom carried flags as they descended.

The flag burning has become a well-attended community event, with this year’s drawing more than 200 people, including Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly and city of Springfield Commissioner Dan Martin.

For a few days before the ceremony, volunteers from the Sons of the American legion draped the flags over a metal structure that kept them elevated above the ground. The flags were then doused with kerosene to prepare them for ignition.

The ceremony was performed by Post 286 members with participation from other American Legion posts, VFW posts and AmVets members. Pike Twp. Fire and EMS personnel were on hand to ensure everyone’s safety.

During the ceremony, the master-at-arms carried one flag representing all 4,000 and presented it to Post 286 leadership for inspection and disposal. Before the flags were lit, taps was played and a prayer was offered.

“The veterans recognize what an honor it is to serve our country and what an honor it is to have our flag. When it becomes tattered and worn, they understand how important it is to dispose of that flag properly,” said Ladies Auxiliary member and spokeswoman Andrea Wright.

Anyone in need of flag disposal can drop flags at the American Legion post throughout the year. Flags will be held until the 2011 ceremony.

Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0371 or elroberts@coxohio.com.