GOSHEN — A local veteran’s organization will combine forces with several Elkhart County funeral homes this spring to promote a unique new way to dispose of unserviceable American flags while honoring deceased veterans at the same time.
Heading up the new program is Roger Bayak, a member of the Goshen Veterans Honor Guard who first learned of the program several months ago after reading an article on the subject printed in the American Legion Magazine out of Indianapolis.
“Apparently an organization called Indiana Funeral Care has been accepting tattered, faded and damaged American flags for a little over a year now, and they came up with the idea that they could take those same flags and place them with deceased veterans who’ve requested to be cremated as a way to both honor the veterans and dispose of the unserviceable flags in a dignified way,” Bayak said. “When I read about the program, it just seemed like such an incredible idea, and I couldn’t believe somebody hadn’t thought of it before.”
The ceremonial burning of old and tattered American flags is a long-standing tradition which takes its lead from the U.S. Flag Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8, which states: “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
Traditionally, citizens who wish to honor that code have brought their old and tattered flags to local veterans’ organizations, where they are collected and then ceremonially burned once the amount of collected flags grows great enough.
“Here in Goshen we always collected flags when they were tattered and torn, but traditionally we would just accumulate the flags at the post until we had enough, and then we’d take them and have them burned in a dignified service,” Bayak said. “But when I saw this thing in the magazine, I thought to myself, ‘Roger, you guys can do this.’ It was such a blessing, a real revelation, and I really believe it’s going to catch on.”
While the program is admittedly still in its early stages, Bayak said he and other members of the Goshen honor guard have already spoken with and received encouraging feedback from several funeral homes from around the county.
“They were just extremely pleased, and the idea was welcomed warmly in terms of their volunteering, their involvement in being a part of this tribute. Because that’s really what this is, a tribute to a vet,” Bayak said. “These guys paid the price for our freedom, and the funeral homes understand that. So we just asked if they’d be interested in participating, and they said they’d be delighted.”
Of the various funeral homes recently introduced to the new flag program, Bayak noted Yoder-Culp Funeral Home, Goshen, Rieth-Rohrer-Ehret Funeral Home, Goshen, Yeager Funeral Home, Ligonier, and Walley-Mills-Zimmerman Funeral Home and Crematory, Elkhart, as among its strongest supporters.
“Those four are the four funeral homes that we spend most of our time with, so that was very encouraging,” Bayak said. “We just can’t thank them enough for agreeing to come on board with us.”
As for how local veterans are responding to news of the new program, Bayak said all feedback he has received so far has been extremely positive.
“All the guys in my outfit know about it, and they’re tickled to death,” Bayak said of the Goshen Veterans Honor Guard, which is made up of a combination of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 985, American Legion Post 30 and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 15. “Everybody’s on board.”
World War II veteran and Goshen honor guard member Jim LaRue was particularly excited about the new program and what it will mean for local veterans.
“I was enthused over it because we usually have to gather the flags all up here, and then we take them up to Bristol at the American Legion and have a ceremony up there to dispose of them properly,” LaRue said. “But when I heard about this, I went out to talk to Yoder-Culp Funeral Home and Rieth-Rohrer-Ehret, and they were enthused. They said, ‘You bring them all out here, all you’ve got, and we’ll take care of them.’ So it was really neat.”
Charles Stacy, a Korean War veteran and fellow member of the Goshen honor guard, agreed.
“I think it’s a great idea because this would be a good way of taking care of the flags and the remains at the same time,” Stacy said. “By doing it this way, they will not only be bound together in life, but in eternal life.”
All those interested in donating their old or unserviceable American flags to the new program are asked to drop their flags off at either the VFW Post 985, 1201 W. Pike St., Goshen, or the DAV Chapter 15, 708 W. Pike Street, Goshen.
For more information, contact Bayak at 574-533-0658.