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Story Last modified at 9:48 a.m. on Thursday, June 23, 2011

Flag Day celebrated in Eagle River
"An inoculation of red, white and blue"

Alaska Star


Members of the UAA Air Force ROTC program fold an American flag during a Flag Day ceremony held at the Eagle River Elks club on June 14. The ceremony also included a ceremonial flag retirement ceremony during which the cadets burned a used flag outside the club.
STAR PHOTO by matt tunseth

A large crowd gathered in downtown Eagle River last week to watch a group of college students burn an American flag.

Out of respect.

The scene outside the Eagle River Elks club was a reverent one on June 14 – Flag Day – as members of the University of Alaska Anchorage Air Force ROTC program conducted a ceremonial flag retirement ceremony that ended with the flag being disposed of in a small fire pit.

Club exalted ruler Debbie Sturdevant said the club believes that honoring the symbol of our nation is an important cause.

"This is something we do every year," she said following the ceremony.

Before the flag burning, members of the ROTC program took part in a ceremony inside during which cadet wing commander Amber Weissenfluh gave a brief history of the flag and its symbolism. As she spoke, "Amazing Grace" played softly in the background while other ROTC cadets folded a flag in the precise, 13-fold fashion.

Lt. Col. Douglas Smith, the ROTC commander, also spoke during the ceremony. He said the event was an important way to remind people how much the flag means to the nation, and the retirement ceremony symbolized the importance of paying it respect.

"It is up to each and every one of us to make sure we continue making this a great nation," Smith said.

Cadet Matthew Stites – a 2006 Eagle River High graduate – said the ROTC program conducts community service projects whenever possible. When Sturdevant asked Stites and his fellow cadets to help out with the ceremony, he said the group jumped at the chance despite being short-handed because of the summer break.

"We do whatever we can to serve our country, we do whatever we can to serve our flag," said Stites, who plans to become an Air Force pilot when he graduates next spring.

The actual burning of the flag itself took just a couple minutes. As Weissenfluh spoke, cadets took turns putting small, torn pieces of the retired flag into the fire pit as several dozen people looked on in silence. After it was all over, everyone filed back inside the building as the remains of the retired flag finished burning.

Though one flag was forever gone, Smith said the ceremony was a great way to show how much the flag means to so many people around the world – and right here in Eagle River.

"It's an inoculation of red, white and blue," Smith said. "A shot in the arm."

This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, June 23, 2011.