By Andy Pouncey
March 30, 2006
One night last week I went to the West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery for a Flag Retirement Ceremony. Did you know that flags get a retirement ceremony? Did you know that the State Veterans Cemetery was even in Germantown? Scout Leader and Germantown resident Martin Hoffert led members of the cemetery support group in a Flag Retirement Ceremony. I trust that this will become a regular event at the cemetery. For years the cemetery has requested that families donate their burial flags so that they may be flown along the inner drive during the Veterans’ Day Ceremony in November and the Memorial Day Ceremony in May.
After years of service to the cemetery, flags may become tattered or torn. The time comes “when a flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display and should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning (US Flag Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, #176 (f).”
The Flag Retirement Ceremony is very often performed by Scouts, and the words are spoken and the actions performed to give the flags the respect they are due. The flags are cut up in small pieces so that individuals may add them to the fire without extinguishing the blaze. The flags are burned in a saucer-shaped container so that the ashes may be saved and later strewn amongst the graves.
As each individual adds a piece of the flag to the fire he or she will say, “I retire this flag in memory of …….”. I was touched that night by Veteran Ronald L. Swatzyna, a recipient of the Purple Heart in WWII, who placed his flag in the fire in memory of his friends who didn’t come back when the war was over, names that have remained fresh in his memory for over 60 years. The ceremony often benefits the individuals in attendance, as well as the retirement of flags. The cemetery support group will see that the public is made aware of all future retirement ceremonies.
Another type of service or ceremony is the Missing Man Table & Honors Ceremony, honoring America’s POW/MIAs and the efforts to account for them. A table is set and reserved to honor missing comrades. The table is set for six, the empty places represent men missing from each of the five services – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard – and civilians. The Honors Ceremony symbolizes that they are with us, here in spirit. The ceremony is often led by another Germantown resident, Jim O’Brien, a Marine forever, and one of this community’s most active veterans. He continues to educate students on the meaning of service to the country.
While the Cemetery is located within the municipal boundaries of the City of Germantown, it has a Memphis address (4000 Forest Hill-Irene Road, Memphis, TN 38125). Their phone number is 901.543.7005. The activities of the Cemetery can be found on the support members website titled: