Lansdale Boy Scouts Kick Off Flag Day Festivities at Betsy Ross House
Who could have expected that a simple thank you note – because “A Scout is Courteous,” a part of the Scout Law – would lead eight Boy Scouts to burn a collection of worn flags in a retirement ceremony at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia?
That is exactly what happened on June 10, after a leader from Troop 303, sponsored by Corpus Christi Church in Upper Gwynedd, thanked its staff for their hospitality earlier this year.
A hike of historic Philadelphia had unexpectedly brought the boys and their leaders to the doors of the landmark. The planned itinerary was completed earlier than expected, and, as a result, Betsy Ross House Manager Michelle Presnall invited the Scouts to join the annual Flag Fest celebration.
Following their “Be Prepared” motto, the troop collected worn flags that flew honorably from family and local organizations, such as the North Penn School District.
Under the U.S. Flag Code, a flag that “is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
While setting up their ceremonial fire in the courtyard of the shrine, the Scouts explained the retirement process to visitors – and invited curious youths to join their local Scout units.
Many visitors asked about the Order of the Arrow sashes worn by most of the Scouts, signifying that their fellow Scouts had elected them to Scouting’s “brotherhood of cheerful service.”
In the ceremony itself, the Scouts briefly explained why and how flags can be retired.
A large flag flown at the Betsy Ross House was ceremonially cut into red- and white-striped pieces, keeping the blue field intact as a symbol of the Union that will not be broken.
Then, Senior Patrol Leader Austin Sweeney gave the order: “For the last time, present the colors.”
The troop maintained a long, silent salute, as the flags were quickly reduced to ashes in the fire. A passing "Ride the Ducks" tour vehicle even stopped in respect.
When the flags were consumed by the fire, former Senior Patrol Leader Stephen Schmitz announced, “Our flag, rest in peace.”
The boys then buried the ashes in a permanent place of honor near Betsy Ross’s final resting place. Then, they presented a star from the flag that had flown over the Betsy Ross House to its staff to confirm its disposal. Scoutmaster Matthew Rossi saved the grommets to use as awards at future Boy Scout Courts of Honor.
Schmitz was struck by how respectful everyone present was for what he called “a simple flag ceremony” – even though some tourists walked past during the most solemn moment.
Presnall thanked the Scouts for their “extremely reverent and patriotic ceremony,” and gave the boys the advice of a former Betsy Ross actress at the site: “The courage to do great things lies in all of us.”
Perhaps the best perspective on the experience came from Sweeney: “How cool was it to honor the flag at Betsy Ross House for Flag Day?”
Pictures from the event may be viewed at http://betsyrosshouseflagretirement.shutterfly.com/.
A video of the ceremony may be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXkjfWFWTDA&feature=youtu.be
Boys interested in becoming a Scout in Troop or Pack 303 may contact Committee Chair Joe Rakszawski at JoeRak@aol.com.