Take great care with Stars and Stripes
Flag Day's Thursday, but respect Old Glory always
June 10, 2007 6:00 AM

Everybody has pet peeves. Some folks can't deal with drivers who don't use their directional signals (the kids call them blinkers). Others can't stand it when people don't pronounce supposedly — i.e., supposably, supposavly — correctly. OK, in the spirit of full disclosure, that's one of my pet peeves. Still others are offended by people who bite their toenails. Go figure.

Regardless, it's human nature to be bothered at times by life's little annoyances.

But there is a mother-of-all pet peeves, especially if you are a veteran or active member of the U.S. military, and it, unlike the aforementioned items, is no laughing matter under any circumstance. It is the improper treatment of our country's flag.

If you pay close attention, you'll see instances of this fairly often. Flags that are flown incorrectly and flags that are discarded improperly are huge offenses, to say the least. Do people do these things on purpose? Probably not, but ignorance is rarely, if ever, a valid excuse.

Since Flag Day is this Thursday, it's an ideal time to be sure you are not guilty of abusing the flag. Flag Day is a holiday that, in case you haven't noticed, doesn't get the same kind of attention as other holidays. Sure, the more commercialized holidays like Christmas, Halloween and Valentine's Day garner more attention, but come on, Groundhog Day? Sadly, it's a bigger deal than Flag Day.

The ironic part is that this day is in honor of the American flag, the symbol that represents everything this country is, everything it stands for and everything our armed forces fight to protect. But don't take it from me — take it from some of the brave people who have served our country.

"It means everything," said Norton Gillespie, an 81-year-old Seabrook resident who served in the Army during World War II. "It represents the whole history of our country."

Simply put, it's insulting to not fly your flag properly. Any veteran can tell you how this is done, and there are many Web sites with tips, although do your due diligence and be sure you're getting your information from a reliable source.

A couple of Web sites — usflag.org and holidayinsights.com — offer guidelines on how to properly display the American flag. Among those is one of the most basic, and that is the flag should always be flown pointing away from your home or building.

Also, never fly a flag at night without a light on it. Yet another is to never fly the flag in rain or poor weather conditions. There are many more.

"The American flag is something we've always fought and died for to have as our own," said York, Maine, resident Glenn Apgar, 57, who served in both the Coast Guard and Navy during the Vietnam War and afterward. "It was the first marker of our independence."

Based on that premise, disposing of a flag properly is as important as flying one properly. An American flag, no matter how tattered, should never be discarded in the trash. It should be burned or buried, and any VFW or American Legion will accept an American flag and properly dispose of it for you.

In fact, the Hamptons Post 35 American Legion in Hampton, in conjunction with the Hampton Fire Department and Boy Scouts Troop 177, will host its annual flag-burning ceremony at 6 p.m. on, you guessed it, Flag Day.

Gillespie, a longtime member of Raymond E. Walton Post 70 in Seabrook, said that American Legion also will host a flag-burning ceremony on Flag Day.

Ron Dupuis, 62, of North Hampton, proudly hangs an American flag from his home. Decades after serving with the Marines during the Vietnam War, Dupuis feels great emotion when looking at it.

"The flag, for some reason to this day, brings a lump to my throat," he said.

When Dupuis was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, a bugler would play the "Colors," followed by the division band's performance of the national anthem.

"When most of the guys rushed to get inside so they did not have to stand a salute, I on most occasions would be sure to be outside for the entire event," Dupuis recalled. "Call me whatever, that's the way I felt."

To this day, one of Dupuis' prized possessions is an American flag that flew over a base where he was stationed outside Danang, Vietnam.

"As far as the rules for flying the flag, and I realize there are many — lights, height, so forth and so on — it doesn't bother me much as long as the flag is flown with respect," he said.

Respect for the flag, as well as The Pledge of Allegiance, was a common theme for former Stratham residents Tim and Caroline D'Agostino, who shared their thoughts on the flag via e-mail. The husband and wife served in the Army just a few years ago during the Iraq war, which is also when they met.

"While I personally may not have arranged it the way it is now — both the country and the flag — I still feel we need to respect, honor, fight for, protect, and be thankful for what it is and who made it what it is," wrote Tim, who is 29. "And it saddens me when someone today who has no idea what it's like to really put yourself out there for this country, thinks they possess the qualifications to flick a pen and mess with 'a pledge' that was written long ago, by someone who does."

Apgar stressed the importance of our maintaining the integrity of our country's most enduring symbol, and doing so through education. He and other members of American Legion Post 56 in York, Maine, will be distributing small American flags to all area elementary schools this week in honor of Flag Day. It is their way of showing young students the importance of our flag and all that it represents.

"The next thing to God is the flag," said Apgar, a past commander who currently serves as adjutant commander at Post 56. "After all, our goal is to protect and serve."

Take the time to treat the American flag with the proper care and respect, not just on Flag Day, but every day. It's the least we can do to honor our country and those who work so hard to protect it. Not to mention those who have died trying.

Mike Sullivan is a Herald columnist. He can be reached at mikesully3234@yahoo.com.