By Kristy Robinson Horine
Coleen Trotter watched intently as the flags that had once hung in her yard were consumed by flames. Trotter herself had turned them over to be burned until they were completely reduced to ashes and no longer recognizable.
It was the most American thing she could have done on Flag Day this past Saturday.
The flag retirement and blessing ceremony was held at Calvary Cemetery on West Main Street in Lexington. Father Dan Noll and members of Boy Scout Troop 282, chartered by Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary Church, and Mike Jagielski, a Knight of Columbus with the Third Degree and the Color Corp Commander for the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus, participated in the morning’s event.
Trotter was joined by her daughter, Christine Thomas, and two of her grandchildren, Christopher and Collin. Together, the three generations brought seven flags to be retired and three flags to be blessed.
“I’ve never done this before,” Trotter said. “I think it’s a blessing and this will give the flags more credence and power hanging in my yard. Our country needs a blessing.”
Trotter’s husband, John W. Trotter Sr. served his country in the US Army for 22 years. During the Korean War, he was a POW for 32 months. When he was buried exactly at sunrise at the Calvary Cemetery, the color guard presented Trotter with the folded flag that had been draped over the veteran’s coffin. This was one of the flags she brought to be blessed. The other two new flags will be flown year-round at her home — an American flag and a black POW flag.
She brought the old large flags and several small flags that had been placed at her husband’s Calvary grave and the gravesites of her daughter and mother from Bluegrass Memorial Cemetery.
During the solemn and simple ceremony, Trotter and her family smiled, nodded and blinked back proud tears. They weren’t alone.
Fran Borders, the three-year manager of Calvary Cemetery, stood in the back of the gathered crowd and watched. Borders had planned the ceremony as part of the cemetery’s 140th anniversary.
Onlookers recited the pledge to the American flag, the scouts recited the Boy Scout Oath, and Father Noll presented a devotional. The committee chair of Troop 282, John Tomecek, welcomed those in attendance, and Jagielski offered the purpose of the flag retirement.
“Our American flag is just a piece of simple cloth, sewn together in a red, white and blue design. A piece of cloth in and of itself does nothing more than hang or blow in the wind. But to many thousands of people throughout our nation’s glorious history, it has stood tall, standing as a monument of freedom for all Americans,” Jagielski said.
During the retirement portion of the ceremony, Committee Chair Tomecek explained that one flag, usually the largest, represents all flags to be retired. The representational flag was stripped, meaning that the different parts of the flag were disassembled into 13 separate stripes and a single unit of the stars on the field of blue.
“The flag has flown through peace and war, through strife prosperity, and amidst it all, it has always been respected. The red stripes symbolize the blood spilled in defense of this glorious nation. The white stripes, the burning tears shed by Americans who lost their sons in battle,” read one scout. “The blue field represents God’s heaven under which it flies, and the stars, clustered together, unify the fifty states as one for God and Country.”
Near the podium, a large metal container held a blazing fire. Another scout added four different types of wood, each symbolizing something different: “Redwood to remind us of the red-blooded Americans who fought and died to build our nation under this flag; oak for rugged strength that carried the flag across this nation and today reaches for the stars; cedar to protect us from pestilence and corruption and preserve our American way of life; and Walnut to remind us of the rich soil, the beautiful countryside and the fruitful brotherhood founded by our ancestors.”
Each stripe was brought forward by Troop 282 members, and then placed on the fire while another recitation announced what each portion of the flag represented – the original 13 states and their dates of admission into the Union, and the field of stars which represented Hawaii, the last state to be admitted.
As the portions of the flag completely burned, a bugler played “Taps.” The trumpet sound blanketed the sacred ground as it brought to a close the service of the symbol that represented so much to so many.
Father Noll then presented a consecration of the new flags which would fly in place of those retired.
“We recognize that you have truly blessed this great nation with freedoms that few other nations can enjoy. We promise never to forget it,” Noll prayed. “May this flag’s presence at all our gatherings, be a constant symbol and reminder to us. We further realize that this flag, these 13 stripes of red and white, and these stars on a field of blue, symbolizes over 200 years of the blood and sweat, tears and toils of our ancestors. We promise to uphold the loyalty to its standards and the sacrifices made by those ancestors as we journey through our lives.”
After the official ceremony, those gathered burned the remainder of the flags.
Borders explained that each year during three different holidays, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day, the American Heritage Girls place 2-foot cloth flags at the gravesite of each veteran interred in the 35-acre cemetery. These flags are usually retired properly off-site. This year, though, to commemorate the 140th anniversary, Borders asked that the retirement and blessing ceremony be carried out on the grounds, just yards away from where Trotter and others are buried.
To Coleen Trotter and her family, the ceremony simply honors her late husband’s service and serves as a reminder of what she hopes to pass on to her children and grandchildren, “Love God, your country, and your family,” she said. “And God bless America.”
Kristy Robinson Horine is a freelance journalist who lives in Paris.