The American flag that was originally scheduled to fly over Newton-Lee Elementary School has made its final public appearance. The fabric was unfolded in full display and held taut so the ceremonial retirement could begin. With the use of a knife, the flag was slowly sliced into four sections. Then, in tandem with a symbolic announcement, each piece was thrown into an open fire pit.
As Eagle Scout Andy Carlson announced, "Blue symbolizes the true loyalty of its defenders," John Andrews, chairman of the Loudoun County School Board, dropped the final swatch of stars into the blaze. It was a sight that many Americans have never witnessed in person.
THIS PARTICULAR BURNING of the country’s symbol was not a political statement, rather a retirement ceremony to end the controversy surrounding the flag’s origins. Last March, when Andrews purchased the flag from an E-bay auction, he was under the impression it had hung from a construction crane over the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. As he later discovered, it had probably not.
Andrews had purchased the flag in memory of local residents, Christopher Newton and Dong Lee, who were aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. With this year’s opening of the dedicated Newton-Lee Elementary School, the flag was to fly in the parking lot.
"I purchased it with the thought that what better place to have it than at the school." Said Andrews.
Andrews went on to explain that there had been an overwhelming amount of controversy concerning the presence of the flag at the Pentagon during the reconstruction of the building.
"Rather than attract attention to controversy, I’d retire it in a dignified way with the Boy Scouts." He said.
The ceremony, which lasted roughly 20 minutes, was held in the backyard of Andrews Community Investment Corporation on Partlow Road in Ashburn. Tom Noon, Goose Creek District Commissioner for the Boy Scouts of America, helped direct his younger Scouts in the retirement ceremony.
"The flag hasn’t done anything wrong and deserves to be treated with respect and not exploited," Noon said. "This is the appropriate way to retire a flag."
IN ORDER TO FIND the right way to go about ending the controversy over the authenticity of the flag, Andrews turned to the Department of Defense, who instructed him that burning it was the best solution. According to the Federal Flag Code, "When a flag is in such a condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning."
In replacement, a new flag will climb the pole at Newton-Lee Elementary School. U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) will ask that a flag be flown over the Capitol in memory of the two local residents who perished in Flight 77. The flag will then be transported to Newton-Lee and dedicated in ceremony.
"We shouldn’t be sad about the retirement of this flag. We are not burning it in anger, we are only releasing it’s spirits so that it can continue to serve us in our thoughts." Said Carlson.