For many, the sight of an American flag being burned represents the ultimate form of protest and disrespect. But there is a time and place when burning an American flag is just the opposite.

American flags that are too worn or damaged to represent the United States with dignity must be retired respectfully.

Each year, members of Wilton’s James B. Whipple American Legion Post 86 take on this responsibility by disposing of them in the preferred way: by burning. Legion members fulfilled this obligation Sunday, Sept. 11, at post headquarters on Old Ridgefield Road.

Thirty-two worn flags were retired in this manner during an afternoon ceremony, although Post Adjutant Tom Moore estimated he retired nearly 300 earlier in the day. Nearly all were collected throughout the year from a red, white and blue box that says “flags only.”

Post chaplain Frank Dunn opened the ceremony with a prayer that thanked God “for our country and our flag and the liberty it represents.”

After the pledge of allegiance, Post Commander Don Hazzard remarked that although they come in all sizes and may be made of many things, from paper to the most expensive fabrics, “the flag’s real value is beyond price … it is a symbol of a free nation.”

Post members lined up as Ken Shewitz folded each flag to be burned. As he handed each member a flag they saluted, then the members approached Moore and saluted again as they handed over the flag. Moore placed each flag in a metal drum within which a fire burned. According to flag etiquette, fires must be large enough to consume a flag in its entirety.

They continued in this manner until each flag was retired.

Fourteen post members participated in the ceremony, after which they gathered for their annual picnic.

Chartered on Oct. 20, 1920, Post 86 was named for James B. Whipple who was born in Wilton in 1893. He served with the 2nd Marine Division in France during World War I. While trying to recover some friends who had been wounded, he was killed in Belleau Aisne, France, June 3, 1918. He was the first resident from Wilton killed in action in what was then called the Great War. His awards include the Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars, the WW I Victory Medal, the Aisne Campaign Battle Clasp and the Defensive Sector Battle Clasp. Corporal Whipple is buried in France

In addition to the flag retirement ceremony, the post is active in many endeavors including Homes for the Brave; Kick for Nick; Female Soldiers, Forgotten Heroes; Memorial Day; Veterans Day; flag etiquette classes; The American Legion Oratorical Contest and Boys State; providing a color guard for various events including funerals, dedications and other ceremonies.

Each year the post presents a scholarship to a Wilton High School graduating senior and also sponsors a Student School Award for a Middlebrook eighth grade student who most displays leadership and motivated qualities.

Information: post86legion.org.