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Campfires and Flag Retirement

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One reason that Scouts are more involved in Flag retirement is that so many veterans are reching the end of their lives.


We do need to try to instill reverence for the flag. I'll say the I think Boy Scouts are the ideal recipients of this burdensome honor.


I've been to Camp School twice, and Campfire Program was a sidebar subject that was taught at both of them. We are taught, a campfire should start out silly, and have some songs and skits leading up to the silliest of all. Then, there should be some calmer songs, and perhaps a skit with a message, and then, a solemn closing. I can't think of a better, or more appropriate closing, than a flag retirement. I agree that the little Cubs probably shouldn't DO a retirement, for simple safety reasons, but they, I opine, should be able to attend. A Troop could even do something like allow the Webelos II to participate in their first flag retirement, as a rite of passage at crossover time.

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Interesting how flags keep coming up over time. One of the issues that the troop that I serve is that we are receiving more nylon/poly flags over the last couple years. Seems that the timeline for 911 flags for retirement is getting close or here now.


The troop that I serve retire flags every year at our yearly family overnight. No cutting of flags, grommets recovered and treated with respect, scouts and family members, if they wish, involved with the retirement. Quiet, respectful, honoring.


The issue that we are having to deal with is the nylon/poly flags. When retired by burning they release chemicals that are not good. (sorry for the dumbing down... research it!) Not what we teach as LNT.


Any ideas?



red feather

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Nylon burning is a valid concern. We had a scout sitting by the fire at one Flag Burning. We kept telling him to stand up. (It was actually a 48 Star flag. It must have been one of the firt Nylon flags ever made.)

Anyway, the fumes made him ill, and he was evacuated to his home.)

A single flag makes less effluent than an 18 wheeler locking it's brakes on the interstate.

I know! dissolve it, respectfully, in a bucket of Toluene, but of course, what do you then do with the Toulune?


I guess I'd decide that it's a ceremonial flag burning, so it's kinda okay. My Scouts did notice that I dive into the fire ring to intercept a piece of plastic that A scout tossed at it, but I'll turn around and burn a whole plastic flag?

I don't know the answer.


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Because it gives you an excuse to have a campfire. You can use stoves to cook with, solar lights that recharge themselves every day for light, why do you need a messy dangerous trace-leaving campfire? To retire the flag with.(This message has been edited by BartHumphries)

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Sweet mercy.


It's not difficult to determine the where the wind is coming from and where it's blowing to. If the wind is going to blow where the audience is, then either don't do the flag retirement or move the audience.


As far as flag retirements themselves go per se, follow the normal order of a campfire: High energy and fun early, calmer and more reflective as the evening moves along. That would mean putting the flag ceremony at the end.


As far as format goes, there are ways that a retirement can be reflective without being somber...

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The issue is being way overthought.


Whatever you do, retire the flag with dignity. There is no right or wrong way.


If the wind shifts and folks get a lung full of smoke, so be it. Only in America would we fret about something like this. We are made of stronger stuff than we think. Our deployed service members inhale much worse 24/7 in their base camps--dust, generator exhaust, all kinds of exotic pollution from off base, burn pits, open sewage ponds, etc. A whiff of burning nylon in the great outdoors is a good reminder for me.


If anyone served on summer camp staff in ancient times, you'll remember that all trash was burned. Staff members had the duty, and you'd inhale plenty of weirdly scented toxic smoke over the course of half an hour. This is heresy and child abuse by today's standards, true. But there are plenty of old camp staff alum alive and kicking. Kind of cantankerous and wondering aloud when chow is going to be served, these old staffers, but they survived.

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Wood smoke is not toxic. Forest fighters breathe this smoke all the time and have no ill-effects unless in HUGE quantities. However, urban firefighters wear full breathing apparatus because they know the burning of plastics, nylon carpets, led based paint, etc. etc. etc. will put them down in a matter of minutes.


Also keep it mind exactly what it is the boys are throwing into the fires. Just because it isn't plastic it's not harmful. Natural rope and twine is saturated with insecticides and herbicides that are released in the smoke.


Stick with just wood in the campfires!



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Boy Scout troop leader catches fire at flag-retirement ceremony




Watch the interview. I like how Mr.Birch handled his unfortunate accident. Imagine being prepared and knowing what to do when something goes wrong - old school scouting. No excuse-making or hiding, he came forward bandaged, honest, cheerful, and good humored about the accident afterwards.


Scout salute and get well card to Mr. Tom Birch.


My $0.02,



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  • 11 months later...


I have been an Asst. Girl Scout Leader, Asst. Cub Master & Asst. Scout Master & am currently the Venturing Crew Leader. But long before these positions...I was in the military and am a Disabled Veteran & Madame Commander of the local American Legion Post. I felt the need to respond to your statement about flag retirement ceremonies at campfires. I feel that in these troublesome days as well as throughout our American history that we can NEVER do enough to remind our youth of what the flag stands for. The more you do something, the more you understand it...as is so not only with our kids but the adults that have the opportunity to observe the ceremony. With foreign countries burning our flag, it is most important that we teach ALL that there is a difference in burning the flag of our Country and laying our flag to rest. Maybe you could use some different ceremonies so that it's something new every 6 mos., for example. Our schools don't really teach about US history or how our flag became what it is today, much less what Old Glory actually represents. For she is far more than just a piece of cloth with a star for each state, she represents the blood shed by every American soldier that gave his/her life to protect our freedoms, she represents the purity of our country, the original 13 colonies. I encourage you to be supportive of these ceremonies as our youth is our future and simply put, when our scouts know...they tell their friends about it & more people will be informed. I actually lead flag retirement ceremonies at the elementary schools, using scouts and children of active duty soldiers, which enables us to reach MANY kids. And you can bet they tell their parents about what they've learned. Have a great day!

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Kudos to Mr. Burch for knowing what to do. We should all play the "what if" game more often, both personally and with our Scouts and children.


Wonder if he was bare armed (please, no puns about "rights to") or wearing a nylon jacket, perhaps?

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We normally do a campfire as part of our IOLS training, conditions permitting. When we do a campfire we routinely incorporate a flag retirement ceremony, partly to demonstrate how to do it effectively. There are two bywords: safety and brevity. I have seen flag retirements that have taken thirty minutes. Far too much time. Remember we are dealing with young boys here.


However, it is precisely because we are dealing with young people that we should do flag retirements. They are not taught about these things in school. Cub scouts and Webelos are not too young to observe such a ceremony.


At our last IOLS event in October we did a flag retirement that was well received. Surprisingly over half the adult trainees had never seen a flag retirement and really appreciated the opportunity to observe one.

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