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American flags damaged by Sandy retired in Kings Point

Ed "Shevy" Shevlin of Rockaway Park, a veteran

Ed "Shevy" Shevlin of Rockaway Park, a veteran sanitation worker for the New York City Department of Sanitation, left, speaks with Midshipman Nick Grippo of Middletown, N.J. at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point Saturday, April 26, 2014. Shevlin collected over 700 American flags for retirement. Credit: Barry Sloan

Hundreds of tattered and soiled American flags -- some of them retrieved from garbage cans after superstorm Sandy -- received a formal send-off by fire Saturday night in Kings Point.

The solemn ceremony held at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy was assisted by a large contingent of Boy Scouts.

The damaged flags were collected by New York City sanitation worker Edward Shevlin of Rockaway Park, Queens, who mounted a one-man campaign to properly dispose of the national symbol.

Shevlin, 53, who said he grew up in a patriotic family, was dismayed when flags started showing up along his garbage route on the Rockaway peninsula, which the October 2012 storm hit hard.

"The flag does not deserve to be placed in a garbage truck next to dirty diapers," he said. "I'd dump over a can, and there'd be a flag in the garbage along with everything else."

Saddened by what he saw, he launched his campaign, reaching people via Facebook and word of mouth. Before long, he was flooded with damaged flags of all sizes. On Saturday at the academy, his sport utility vehicle was filled with them.

Federal law states that when flags are no longer fit for display, they "should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

When Nick Grippo, 22, of Middletown, N.J., a midshipman first class at the academy, heard about Shevlin's efforts, he volunteered to help.

"We wanted to make sure all the flags were retired properly," said Grippo, a former Boy Scout.

As part of the ceremony, Scouts wrote the names of people to whom they wished to dedicate flags on index cards and cast them into the fire.

During a ceremony last year, Neil Estrada, a 12-year-old Scout from Middletown, dedicated a flag to his uncle, an Army captain who served in Iraq. Saturday night, he honored the husband of his father's cousin, who died in Afghanistan.

Estrada said Shevlin's efforts were "pretty cool . . . He was able to go above and beyond and do something that made a difference."

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