Under a pristine American flag hanging from a Miami Beach firetruck, Pearl Harbor survivor and Navy veteran Gordon Read threw a tattered Old Glory into a pit of orange flames.
The 94-year-old, who uses a walker, stood for a second as the folded flag disappeared into ashes and smoke.
In his more than nine decades of life, Read — who was a radio operator on a mineship when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941 — had never seen the proper way to retire a flag.
“The flags on the ships always got beat up, and I never knew what they did with them,” said the retired electrical engineer. “This was very special.”
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Read, who lives in Key Biscayne, was the guest of honor Wednesday at the Pearl Harbor Day Flag Station Drop Unveiling and Dedication/Flag Retirement Ceremony and Service put together by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary Post 3559 Miami Beach, Girl Scout Troop 1239 and Miami Beach’s police and fire departments. The event took place at Miami Beach Fire Station No. 4, 860 69th St.
The solemn ceremony included the burning of 25 flags that are no longer in good condition and the unveiling of a new box that will be used to collect old flags. The only way to properly retire a flag with respect is either to burn it or bury it, said Marice Cohn Band, the leader of Girl Scout Troop 1239.
“It’s something we have been doing for years,” Band said, adding that normally the ceremony is done at Girl Scout campouts and tthat he flags are burned in complete silence.
This year, with the help of Jill Nolden, a VFW Auxiliary lifetime member, the event grew and was tied to the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which killed more than 2,400 Americans.
The police officers and firefighters at the event, who also served in the military, received a flag to place in the fire. The flags were stored in a drop box. Angelina Gold, an 11-year-old Girl Scout, designed a new drop box that will be at Miami Beach’s fire station for future ceremonies.
Girl Scout Paloma Baeumler, 14, read a poignant message that is standard for Girl Scout flag retirement ceremonies. They took one flag and ripped the stars from the stripes and separated the stripes before throwing them into the flames.
“Tonight, we are not burning a flag; we are retiring a symbol of America’s honor, courage and strength,” she read.
And then she spoke as if the flag could talk.
“Now I am tired and it is time for me to rest in this sacred place of your campfire,
My colors are faded, but my spirit remains unbroken.”