Jamie Taylor/river news
Eagle Scout Jacob Dreifuerst plays Taps on a trumpet as a stack of unserviceable American flags are burned as part of a flag retirement ceremony Wednesday evening, Sept. 11, 2019, at Hodag Park in Rhinelander. The ceremony, hosted by VFW Post 3143, also served as a remembrance of those lost in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
9/14/2019 7:30:00 AM VFW holds flag retirement ceremony on Sept. 11
It was on a sunny morning 18 years ago this week that America's sense of invulnerability was shattered, along with both towers of the World Trade Center, a portion of the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania.
In the nearly two decades since that awful day when terrorists breached the U.S. homeland, Sept. 11 has become known as Patriot Day.
Sept. 11, 2019 was a damp and gloomy day in Rhinelander. Rain fell for hours, leading to concerns that Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3143 would not be able to hold an evening ceremony at Hodag Park to honorably retire old, worn, torn or otherwise unserviceable American flags.
"We normally hold our flag retirement ceremony on Flag Day (June 14), but we had too much going on then," post quartermaster Ralph Larson explained.
He said someone told him about Patriot Day, but he didn't immediately connect the name with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I'm not so computer-savvy as some people," Larson admitted with a chuckle. "When I searched for it, I was getting a date later in the month. Somebody then explained to me I was getting something related to the Revolutionary War."
Since the flag retirement service would take place on Patriot Day, Larson wanted to involve the Rhinelander fire and police departments. He also invited Boy Scout Troop 660 to take part.
Starting Monday, the VFW began gathering all of the unserviceable flags that have been donated by residents and put them on pallets. Flags turned in after that time went on top after the pile was assembled at the Hodag Beach end of the park.
"We have over 2,000 flags this year, everything from little flags to a 16x40 foot flag," Larson said.
In all, he said there were three more large flags that were turned in for the ceremony, but the 16x40 foot flag was chosen to be part of the ceremony.
As if it was ordained, approximately 30 minutes before the start time for the ceremony the rain tapered off to a mist. The Boy Scout troop assembled and was briefed by VFW adjutant Tony Lehmann as to its role in the ceremony.
Rhinelander Fire Chief Terry Williams used the public address system in his department pickup truck to narrate what was taking place as the Boy Scouts, under the direction of Lehmann, unfolded and "flared" the large flag before it was placed over the pile and then secured in place with pallets.
"Now let these flags be burned and replaced with bright new flags of the same size, kind, and prideful flight," Williams read over the PA. "Let no veterans' grave be unmarked or unhonored, we salute them all."
With this, Larson lit the pile of pallets in several places, alighting the fuel oil that had been placed on them to help get the wooden pallets to ignite. At first the pyre produced more smoke than flames. At its heaviest, the smoke resembled what came out of the Twin Towers after they were struck by the hijacked airliners.
Then, the flames spread and grew, beginning the rather quick work of consuming the gathered flags.
The VFW rifle squad provided a three-shot honor volley before Eagle Scout Jacob Dreifuerst played Taps on a trumpet.
As the mournful notes reverberated throughout the park, the assembled Boy Scouts and veterans saluted the fire.
Williams then read the Patriot Day Prayer.
May all of us remember with love and compassion this day.
May we grieve with those who still mourn and share memories with those who cannot forget.
May we draw strength from those who bravely responded and gave their lives to save others.
May we stand with strangers who became neighbors that day and remember their generosity and hospitality.
After about 10 more minutes, the crowd began to disperse into the misty night.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews online.com.
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