Retiring the flag
July 10, 2019
On the morning of the Fourth of July, American flags were cut apart and burned in Tucumcari.
But it wasn't an act of desecration or protest. It was part of a biennial flag-retirement ceremony by the Tucumcari chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Typical protocol of properly disposing a faded or tattered U.S. flag requires it to be folded, laid on a bonfire and burned. The DAR takes it several steps further by cutting apart the flag's stars and stripes before burning them.
Thursday morning's ceremony occurred behind the Tucumcari fire station in downtown. The DAR kept two fires going - one in a red, white and blue burn barrel and the other in a converted drum from a washing machine - so they could dispose of hundreds of worn American flags, many from the graves of veterans.
About 30 people watched as DAR members went through a formal declaration that a U.S. flag that once flew at Quay Cemetery south of Tucumcari no longer was usable.
"Madam regent, this flag has become faded and worn in the service of tribute and love. I recommend it be fittingly destroyed," the DAR's chaplain declared.
With a pair of scissors, DAR member Michelle Farrow separated the blue-and-white union from the flag, then cut the 13 white and red stripes that symbolized each state as the original colonies was read.
Farrow dropped the pieces into the fire as a DAR members saluted and one declared: "Once you were Old Glory, and we were proud of you. Now you are small pieces of cloth, and we shall give you rest, still holding that special pride in your memory."
Gi Gi Parker, a DAR registrar who has helped with such ceremonies for about a dozen years, is careful to publicly call it a flag-retirement ceremony and not a flag-burning event.
"It's why we want to be really specific for people to understand it's a flag retirement service, that we do it with dignity and respect," DAR member Susan Taylor said. "It's not a protest."
"A couple of years ago, they put out on a Tucumcari (social-media site) that we were going to have a flag-burning," Parker said. "That did not set very well. We were burning them, but not to protest anything. We're very patriotic."
Burning the U.S. flag as a form of protest remains hotly controversial, even 30 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act was constitutionally protected free speech. The 5-4 ruling in June 1989 was unusual in that it didn't fall under typically partisan lines. Justices Thurgood Marshall and Antonin Scalia, typically far apart philosophically and in previous rulings, were in the majority opinion. That same sort of nonpartisan split also was seen in the case's dissenting opinions.
Widespread confusion persists about showing proper respect for the flag. Some people think an image of the U.S. flag shouldn't be dominantly displayed on clothing, but that's not true, Parker said. Clothing designs inspired by the flag are OK.
"If (the clothing) is actually a flag, that's a big no-no," she said. "You also shouldn't use the flag as a curtain or a bedspread. You shouldn't fold small flags and use them as napkins on a table."
The DAR made available copies of the U.S. flag code to help clarify those issues.
Two firefighters at the ceremony also were overheard discussing whether it's proper to display alternate designs of the American flag, such as black-and-white flags with one blue or red stripe that signify support for police officers or firefighters.
Frank Massey, who served in the Army during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s, watched the ceremony Thursday. He said he was not saddened about seeing a U.S. flag being cut up and burned.
"The flags have done their duty," he said. "To get rid of them, this is a good way to do it."