Retiring Old Glory: Scout, Veterans Agent Initiate Flag Ceremony in Belmont

Photo: Flag retiring ceremony in Belmont.

The mound of more than 2,000 flags of the United States  – much which were planted over the graves of veterans and war dead, others large and once flying stately over homes and offices – all worn and threadbare, some mere remnants of Old Glory, laid piled neatly near the edge of Belmont’s Clay Pit Pond.

While disrespectful to allow the Star Spangle Banner to lay on the ground, it was instead a show of great honor and reverence that these flags were brought to the site near the Belmont High School parking lot on Saturday morning, Oct. 14.

The banners would soon be retired in the only manner prescribed by law: burned.

Before Saturday, Belmont residents were required to be resourceful to retire a flag properly; some would perform the act themselves or store the weathered stars and stripes away in a corner, forgotten.

But through the effort of a local scout seeking a project to perform and the town’s Veterans’ Agent, Belmont now has its own town-wide flag retirement ceremony, one that they intend will be held annually.

“We needed something like this in Belmont for a while,” said Veterans Agent Bob Upton.

Boy Scout Robert Mountain,  a 17-year-old who attends the Chapel Hill – Chauncy Hall School in Waltham, was seeking out a unique community project to satisfy his Eagle Scout service requirement. He contacted Upton who informed Mountain the town had recently set up boxes in two locations around town to collect old flags. 

“Immediately I thought it would be perfect that we retire them here in town,” said the Orchard Street resident.

Mountain worked with Upton to secure material from local businesses – Hillside Gardens, Winters Hardware and Roche Bros. in Lowell – such as the two barrels used to contain the fires and cinder blocks as foundations.

“It’s a big process to retire 2,000 flags,” said Mountain, who is expecting his Eagle Scout designation before June of next year.

Before the event began, Selectmen Chair Jim Williams discovered one of the largest flags was a hand stitched 49-star banner with the 50th star sewn on when Hawai’i joined the US nearly 60 years ago. Williams – a Vietnam-era Navy veteran – rescued the flag and was going to have it dry cleaned an then displayed. 

The ceremony included readings from Mountain and three fellow scouts – Boy Scouts Will Thomas and Alden Barnes and Cub Scout Owen Thomas – before an audience that included Gold Star mother Pamela Curtis, Williams, Belmont VFW Post Commander Kip Gaudet and numerous veterans and residents. “Taps” was played, and the first flag placed into the flames. 

“I couldn’t be prouder than to have the Boy Scouts lead this ceremony,” said Upton.