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LODGE TO GIVE FADING FLAGS A GLORIOUS EXIT.

Byline: Dennis McCarthy

They were beautiful once, so colorful and elegant - these worn, old American flags being retired Sunday.

They've flown proudly outside homes, over buildings, and in parks and parades - everywhere and anywhere people wanted to pay their respects to a national holiday, service veterans, or the birth of this country.

But the years and elements have taken their toll. Their colors are faded now, their fabrics torn and tattered from all the seasons of wind, rain, and heat.

It's time for them to go, but where? How do you throw away a flag?

You don't. You honor it.

You fold it up for the last time, and you bring it over to the Canoga Park Elks Lodge 2190 this Sunday at 11 a.m., and you hand it over to men like Bob Brennan, Harry Spear and Kirk Kuykendall.

Then you sit back and watch how it's done. With color guards and Cub Scouts, with patriotic music and solemn words of thanks.

With honor, respect and dignity as it's finally set afire.

That's how you retire a worn, old flag.

Bob Brennan put down the phone and shook his head. Maybe it was time to open to the public this private flag retirement ceremony his Elks Lodge held every year for members and guests to honor Flag Day, the lodge activities chairman thought.

Too many people, like the guy on the phone, just didn't know the right way to go about getting rid of an old flag.

``He said his flag meant a lot to him, and he probably should have put it to bed years ago because it was so worn, but he just didn't know how,'' Brennan said Wednesday.

``He wasn't alone. A lot of people were wondering the same thing. Too many of them were sneaking out to the trash dumpster after dark to get rid of theirs because they were ashamed for anyone to see they were throwing it away.''

Brennan took his concerns to his lodge brothers, who were all for opening the ceremony to the public for the first time this year.

``It's a wonderful opportunity for families to bring their kids to our picnic grounds, and see for themselves how you retire a flag while, at the same time, celebrate Flag Day,'' said Harry Spear, the lodge's exalted ruler.

Vickie Smith has seen the ceremony dozens of times, and it still never fails to give her goose bumps as songs like ``America'' are played to an oral history of the Grand Old Flag.

``You watch these beautiful, young Cub Scouts with tears running down their faces as they watch these old flags being burned after years of service,'' says Smith, whose husband, Ken Smith, is an officer in the Lodge.

``It gets to them. It gets to all of us.''

It will be toward the end of the pancake breakfast that runs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday that a handful of Elks officers will excuse themselves, and retire to the lodge hall.

They will get out of their street clothes, and put on the white tuxedos each will wear when they say their lines from the retirement tribute book, and get ready to handle these old flags for the last time.

Why the tuxedos? It just seems somehow richer and more appropriate to be dressed to the nines when you're about to say goodbye to a trusted, old friend, Brennan said.

Before long, Boy Scout Troop 211 and the 42nd Highland Regimental Pipe and Drum Corps will present the colors, and the ceremony will begin.

It should last about an hour, depending on how many people show up to have their flags retired.

Spear, as exalted ruler, will have the last say, standing in front of a 55-gallon drum that will hold the ashes of the burned flags.

``Today, their colors are tattered and faded,'' he will say. ``They have served their country with honor and distinction, and have now reached the end of their patriotic journey.

``With a service of tribute, memory, and love to our faded and worn American flags, we honorably retire them with dignity and respect,'' he will say, setting each afire.

That's how you retire a worn, old flag.

The ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. on the picnic grounds at the Elks Lodge, 20925 Osborne Street, Canoga Park. The lodge phone number is (818) 347-2193.

Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

CAPTION(S):

photo

PHOTO Canoga Park Elks Lodge members clutch some worn flags to be retired Sunday.

John Lazar/Daily News
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 10, 1999
Words:766
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