Journey Journal… Florida and Beyond
A NEW WAVE for OLD GLORY
“You’re a grand old flag
You’re a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave
You’re the emblem of
The land I love
The home of the free and the brave
Every heart beats true
‘Neath the red white and blue… “
Since 1906 when George M. Cohan composed the lyrics to this quintessential American march that rallies patriotic fervor, the images evoked by that “… Grand Old Flag” have suggested unblemished crispness. In the minds of visualizing beholders, probably the flawlessly intact fabric of that unfettered flag undulates picturesquely in sweeping billows against a pure blue sky.
But, like the people they represent, flags eventually wear out. Over the course of time they are apt to fade and become tattered, torn, dingy, and no longer emblematically serviceable.
Photo Source: Website of Bordentown Home for Funerals
Actually, the composer’s original title and, later, the first line for this popular piece of music featured the word “rag.” The notion for it stemmed from an encounter with a veteran who had fought at Gettysburg. After Cohen noticed that the man was holding a folded, but ragged flag, the veteran declared, “She’s a grand old rag.” These words were adopted as the name for his new tune, but he had to rethink it since individuals and groups objected to a title that implied disrespect for the iconic national symbol. Though he changed the “Rag” to “Flag” in the title, the chorus began, “You’re a grand old flag / Though you’re torn to a rag.” That version, too, went the way of the wind, but copies of the original ones still circulate among collectors.
So what happens to American flags that become rags or lose their luster? According to the United States Flag Code, they should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning.
Many funeral homes have responded to this mandate by sponsoring flag retirement ceremonies to which the public may be invited.
Photo Source: Website of Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services
Community members and groups may be asked to deliver their unusable flags to the funeral homes prior to such events. Protocol dictates a sequence of proceedings that entails either burning of all the flags that have been collected or a representative one of them; in such instances, the remaining ones are later incinerated. Funeral homes often engage veterans' organizations and Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops to participate in ceremonies. There may be a Color Guard involved in performing rituals, and sometimes even a military gun salute.
But let’s look more closely at two lines of the “… Grand Old Flag” song. Many countrywide funeral homes have established an alternative type of practice that negates a few of the words… the ones alluding to every heart beating true under the red, white, and blue.
Like the facilities that host retirement ceremonies, they request worn-out flag donations, sometimes by way of prominent signs on their properties.
Kays-Ponger & Uselton Funeral Homes and Cremation, Englewood, FL
But instead of ceremoniously burning the collective assortment outdoors as an event, they burn them individually in conjunction with cremation processes. That is, according to family wishes, a donated flag is draped over the casket of a veteran prior to its entry into the crematory chamber. Though hearts are no longer beating under the red, white, and blue, the hearts of family members are warmed by the significance of this gesture.
Photo Source: Website of Charlotte Memorial Funeral Home and Memorial Gardens, Punta Gorda, FL
The initiative is taken a step further at the Charlotte Memorial Funeral Home. Flags that are not incinerated as part of cremations are burned separately in the chamber, after which the ashes are placed in the Veteran’s Garden of Honor section of their memorial park. Some facilities routinely send a certificate to a family, verifying that a flag accompanied a loved one in this manner as part of the cremation process for that individual.
The ongoing escalation of cremation rates has accelerated a uniquely patriotic opportunity for resourcefulness in funeral homes these days. This commemorative measure honors those Americans who have served to promote peace for fellow countrymen living under the high flying flag… in the land they love… the home of the free and the brave.
Kays-Ponger & Uselton Funeral Homes and Cremation, Punta Gorda, FL