MEXICO—It has 13 alternating stripes of red and white; 50 white stars on a field of navy blue; and stands for freedom, hope, and patriotism. The U.S. flag stands tall as it flies in the skies over government buildings, schools, and homes across the country, but sometimes, the flag fades or gets torn by Mother Nature. When that happens, it is time to retire the flag.
Ethan Wiley, the son of J.R. and Shana Wiley of Mexico, Mo., has committed to giving old flags the respect they deserve by retiring them in an official ceremony as part of his Eagle Scout project for Mexico Troop No. 57. Wiley has collected more than 200 flags, from local residents, organizations and government entities, which he has stored in his garage for the public ceremony. On May 29 at 4 p.m. in Plunkett Park, near the scout camping area, the public was invited to witness Wiley’s flag retirement ceremony.
As the rank of Eagle Scout loomed ahead for the Mexico High School junior, Wiley took inspiration for his project by one of his past troop members, who retired approximately 50 flags. He not only wanted to retire more flags, but he also wanted to create a sustainable project for his troop.
“I wanted to make this a long-lasting project and not just a one-time event,” he said.
Last March, Wiley started planning and with the help of the Audrain County Commission, he was able to get his project off the ground.
“The courthouse had flags that needed to be retired,” Wiley said. “The commissioners asked around to see if there were any scouts who wanted to retire the flags properly. That’s when I contacted them and got the project going.”
Wiley placed a collection bin in the rotunda of the Audrain County Courthouse so citizens could place their worn and fragile flags in an accessible public area. After being contacted by a member of the Mexico School District, he also obtained another bin from the Audrain County Commission. Once he had a second bin he knew where to place it, in the district’s central office.
“I have a garage full of flags,” he said. “There are well over 200 flags!”
As a flag is flown, Wiley explained, the fabric can become worn or have tears in it. That is usually a good sign as to when it should be retired.
“When it’s not respectful to fly it anymore is when it should be retired,” he explained.
Wiley planned to retire about 50-75 out of the 200 from his garage during the ceremony. To prepare a flag for a retirement ceremony, the teen along with other members of his troop remove the grommets, cut each flag into strips while reciting special passages to honor each piece, burn the strips of fabric, and then bury the ashes in a place that will not be disturbed. Out of the 50 to 75 flags that will be cut, Wiley and his troop members will save five to prep during the ceremony.
After looking at various flag retirement ceremonies online, Wiley said he chose a particular format because he thought it would be the most respectful. Wiley invited friends to participate in his color guard and closed with a special rendition of “God Bless America.”
Only 8% of scout members reach the title of Eagle Scout. Wiley said that to earn the honor, a scout member must complete a project, which is heavily documented; reach the rank in scouting; and complete approximately 21 merit badges. After receiving the honor, Wiley plans to assist the scout masters in the boys’ troop and the newly formed girls’ troop.