FORT SMITH (AP) — Busy work and school schedules are keeping too many people from appreciating the U.S. flag.
That is the belief of Tony Yates, an Eagle Scout with Westark Area Council’s Troop 3, who designed and created a flag-retirement center near the Knights of Columbus Hall at Columbus Acres in Fort Smith. Featuring a vault, a pedestal/slab area and a walkway, the center is the perfect venue to retire and honor American flags, he said.
"Today, people don’t think a lot about patriotism," said Yates, a Southside High School graduate who is studying computer engineering at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. "They really don’t think often of the millions of people who have died for our freedoms, but I think if people would stop and think about it, they would realize the importance of the flag."
For his Eagle Scout project, the son of Roddy and Becky Yates of Fort Smith, designed and, with the help from some of his fellow Boy Scouts and other volunteers, built the center near a flagpole, west of the hall. The center is made of native sandstone, and its vault, which stands 3 feet tall, 41?2 feet wide and 21?2 feet deep, is used to store the ashes of burned flags following the retirement ceremony. Flag-retirement ceremonies include the burning of the flag in an urn and storing its ashes in the vault.
"The whole point in retiring a flag is when that particular flag no longer truly represents America," Yates said. "When you retire a flag, you end its life. Previously, we, the Boy Scouts, would retire a flag by burning the flag in a five-gallon bucket.
"But now, with the new center, it’s a lot nicer than having to do it in a bucket," he added. "Having the ceremony in a center, that’s a more fitting symbol of the United States flag."
Flags are retired when they become too faded or too damaged to display, said Roddy Yates, Troop 3 committee chairman. Many area business owners and workers donate their flags to Troop 3 after the flags become tattered, torn or stained because of weather, he said.
"We’ll get 15 or 20 flags collected, and then we will have a retirement ceremony for them," Roddy Yates said. "We think that we’ll do a ceremony every three months or so."
Designed to pay the utmost respect for the flag and all U.S. military veterans, the flag-retirement ceremony includes cutting the strip of flag that includes the grommets, where the flag usually is mounted to a flagpole’s rope. Next, the flag’s blue portion that contains the stars is cut from the flag, with the red stripes being cut off, one stripe at a time, Roddy Yates said.
"Then, you will start cutting the white stripes off, and for each part of that, we have readings," he said. "One of the readings involves reading the names of all 13 original states and when they came into Union, and one saying is, ‘Give me liberty or give me death."’
For the ceremony, sand is put in between the urn and the rock pedestal to protect the rock. The Pledge of Allegiance is spoken during the ceremony, and charcoal is used to burn the flag before the ashes are temporarily stored in the vault, said Roddy Yates.
"The ashes are collected, actually, for a burial at a later date," he said. "The proper way to bury the ashes is to bury them somewhere in the ground. We will bury the ashes later on the property at Columbus Acres."
Tony and Roddy Yates got the idea for the flag-retirement center after learning there wasn’t one in the region. Henry Moore, a past grand knight and current district deputy for the Knights of Columbus’ Arkansas Council, first approached Roddy Yates with the idea.
"I saw the scouts doing a flag-retirement ceremony with a patio grill, and I suggested to Roddy Yates that it would be nice to have a proper place to do this," Moore said. "A proper place would be more dignified."
Robert Collins, a grand knight with Knights of Columbus, agreed.
"I had never been to a flag-retirement ceremony until Tony and his fellow Eagle Scouts had their ceremony, and I was glad I saw it," he said. "We’re glad to have this here. After that ceremony, there wasn’t a dry eye."
Tony and Roddy Yates both said a flag-retirement ceremony is "nothing like" the act of a protester burning an American flag.
"We treat the flag with honor and respect up to the point it becomes ashes, and even after that," Roddy Yates said. "We speak highly of and remember the flag, and talk about where it came from."
Protesters, on the other hand, are seeking publicity when they burn flags, he said.
"With protesters burning flags, they’re saying, ‘Look at me, I’m doing something illegal,"’ Roddy Yates said. "They’re taking the flag and disrespecting it - it’s illegal in our country to burn or wear the flag, even though we don’t prosecute for that. Our ceremony is about respect."
Tony Yates predicted that Troop 3 members will be busy retiring flags in the coming months.
"The United States is one of the greatest nations on Earth, and the American flag is a symbol of that," he said. "The flag represents the millions of men and women who have died for this nation, and the freedoms we have. When you retire a flag, it gives you this feeling of patriotism."
Tony Yates hopes that the new center will help increase people’s sense of patriotism.
"It used to be that when a person saw a flag in a parade, he or she would salute the flag, but now people just let the flag pass on by," he said. "If more people started saluting the flag when they see it, even more people would salute it and respect it."