Two Long Island American Legion veterans on Friday carefully walked an American flag meticulously folded in a triangle over to a nearby grill, where it was quickly consumed by flames.
On Flag Day, dozens of veterans and their families, Boy Scouts and residents gathered at the Covanta Huntington Resource Recovery Facility in East Northport to commemorate the holiday and properly retire the worn flag.
During the ceremony, veterans' groups were recognized, Long Island high school art murals depicting several renditions of the American flag were displayed and a moment of silence was held for fallen soldiers.
“When I look at that flag in an audience surrounded by people who’ve worn the uniform, I can’t help but be reminded that over the centuries, since the founding of this great nation, countless Americans have gone into harm’s way behind this flag,” said Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency Director Thomas Ronayne. “They have fought in front of this flag, and too many Americans have returned home underneath this flag."
An American flag becomes “retired” when it is tattered or discolored beyond repair. Then, there are three options: the worn flag can either be burned, buried or donated.
After several veterans’ organizations approached Covanta last year about having an excess of retired flags, the energy company used its thermal waste destruction methods to safely dispose of the flags in the proper manner.
Covanta has a large number of veterans working there and the employees conduct honorary ceremonies year-round before flags are processed in bulk, Covanta Huntington facility manager Ken Hinsch said.
"When we get a large quantity, we'll run our boilers down, we'll fill the boilers with flags, and then we'll do the ceremony and do them all as one burn event, so that we can do them with dignity, hand salutes," Hinsch said.
Since June 14, 2018, Covanta has disposed of 55,000 retired flags, he said.
Disposal bins can be found at Covanta’s Westbury and Huntington locations, as well as at VFW and American Legion locations throughout Long Island.