On Saturday, dozens of men, women, and children holding tattered and torn American flags lined up outside VFW Post 8790 in Spring Branch. As a military honor guard looked on and a bugler played taps, they stepped one by one up to a smoking barrel and tossed their flags into the flames. Many had tears in their eyes; some saluted the flames.
Known as a flag retirement ceremony, the event is intended to commemorate the sacrifices made by America’s military veterans. According to custom, old American flags are supposed to be burned and their ashes interred.
“It’s very moving, and very solemn, to watch the flags go up in flames,” said Catherine Barchfeld, the longtime president auxiliary of this VFW Post. Barchfeld’s father, brother, and husband are all military veterans.
The VFW combined the flag retirement ceremony with an all-day fundraiser for the VFW National Home for Children, founded in Eaton Rapids, Michigan in 1925 as a home for families who lost loved ones in World War I. Over the years, the organization grew from a single farm house to a sprawling campus of 42 single-family homes. Its mission also expanded to include veterans who return from war with PTSD or mental health issues.
“Sometimes the veteran has PTSD and the whole family is spiraling down,” explained Barchfeld, who also serves on the Spring Branch Management District’s board of directors. “So they take them in and keep them there for up to four years to get them back on track. They make sure the family has enough to eat, make sure the kids are educated properly, and that the veteran gets the mental health care they need. And then they provide relocation assistance so they can move back home.”
About 30 people attended Saturday’s fundraiser, paying $10 per plate for a dinner of pulled pork and beef, fixings, and dessert. Money was also raised through a bake sale and a silent auction.
The day culminated with the flag retirement ceremony, presided over by the VFW Honor Guard, which also attends military funerals. Over 1,000 flags had been dropped off at the VFW Post, 200 of which were burned at this ceremony. (The fire marshal regulates how many can be burned at once.) The flags’ ashes will be buried on the property of the local American Legion hall.
Barchfeld said that VFW Post 8790 plans to hold flag retirement ceremonies every quarter, and encourages anyone with an old flag to drop it off at the VFW hall. She said that such ceremonies provide a respite from the political rancor currently gripping the country.
“With all the political stuff going these days, this is something that brings us all together as Americans. We all respect our flag.”
The Spring Branch Management District sponsored this event.
VFW Post 8790. 1560 Foley St. vfwpost8790.org