CLINTON — Smoke and flames rose into the twilight sky Monday, as more than 1,500 U.S. flags were retired and ceremonially burned.
The Clinton AMVETS Post 28 have burned retired flags for many years. Gary Buikema, from the AMVETS, said it is a military tradition to burn the flags to prevent anyone from defacing or defaming them. Commander Ed Stremlow gathered the ashes this morning to be buried in an unknown location for the same reason.
“As far as I know, this is a tradition at this post that has gone on a long, long time,” Buikema said.
AMVETS Post 28 was chartered in 1946, after WWII. R.R. Kelley, life member of the AMVETS, said the post has always done some sort of retirement ceremony, but it has not always been as elaborate. He added that they have been burning the retired flags for at least 10 or 12 years.
Torn, tattered and worn flags were gathered from throughout the community and were bundled for destruction. AMVETS Trustee Dick Nelson said the bundle typically includes a lot of small flags from the area cemeteries. Monday night, he stood and watched as the 1,576 flags burned.
For the second year in a row, the ceremony was moved inside due to weather. The retirement was held inside the AMVETS club location, with a few members going outside to set the flag ablaze. Some audience members slowly made their way outside to watch the flags burn, while others viewed it out of the building’s large window.
“We wanted it outside, but we didn’t know what the weather was going to do,” Stremlow said.
Earlier snowfall prompted the AMVETS to move the ceremony inside. While members agreed the event went well, most wished they had known the weather was going to clear before the dusk service.
“If it’s outside, the timing goes so much better and it flows,” Buikema said.