Local war veterans sharing experiences. Uniformed Boys Scouts retiring flags. Taps being played on the bugle, 150 well-worn flags prepared with care for a proper retirement by fire. Museum exhibits displaying war memorabilia from local Oakdale soldiers and a strong feeling of patriotism being shared with the younger generation. These are some of the sights and sounds that were observed on Veterans’ Day weekend at the Oakdale Museum on West F Street as the community gathered to honor and celebrate local veterans and to retire flags that have flown faithfully in the area.
This special Veterans’ Day celebration was a two-day event that was organized by Life Scout Daniel Davis, 14, from Boy Scout Troop 42 as his Eagle Scout project. During this past summer, Davis had the opportunity to participate in several flag retirement ceremonies as he served as a scout counselor at Mensinger Boy Scout Camp. After this experience, he began noticing that there were quite a few tattered and worn flags flying in Oakdale that needed retiring. He also had a desire to honor his grandfather, Raymond Fligge, who served in the Vietnam War. So with these two things as his motivator, he began organizing the Veterans’ Day flag retirement ceremony.
When the Oakdale Museum representatives heard about this proposal, they saw that there was a need for this in the community. They volunteered to host his Eagle Scout project and to open the museum to the public on Monday, Nov. 12 following the event so that those in attendance could see the war exhibits. After securing a location, Davis and his volunteers canvased Stanislaus County for worn flags that needed retiring. They gathered close to 150 flags from local businesses, scout troops, fire stations, and individuals.
On Saturday, Nov. 10, Davis and some local Boy Scouts and leaders spent the day preparing and retiring 122 American and California flags according to the flag code. The flags were retired by burning with dignity and respect. The grommets (flag eyelets) were gathered from the ash and polished for the veterans who attended Monday’s ceremony. For several of the younger Boy Scouts, this was their first opportunity to be a part of a flag retirement ceremony.
The second part of the Eagle Scout project was held on Monday, Nov. 12, Veterans’ Day, when the community was invited to the Oakdale Museum to honor and interact with local veterans, past and present, and to participate in a formal flag ceremony. Larry Parshall, Oakdale’s former interim police chief, spoke about some of his experiences in the Vietnam War. John Nash spoke about serving in Korea. Mark Maes, a current member of the United States Air Force set to deploy again, spoke about some of his recent experiences. The final speaker was decorated Scouter, Talmage Allen, who spoke about the flag code and the proper way to display and retire tattered flags.
After the designated speakers, the veterans in the audience introduced themselves and told what war or time period they served. Several veterans also added a few brief comments about their service and their feelings about the flag. Their patriotism and pride was evident in their faces and emotions. The veterans were given bookmarks with the poem entitled “Thank You Veterans.” Attached to each bookmark was a polished grommet from the flags that were retired on Saturday as a show of gratitude and respect for their service. Audience members were also given grommets to pass along to family members, neighbors, and friends for their military service.
Following the speakers and veteran recognitions, Boy Scouts from Troop 42, 43, and 51 retired an additional 15 flags, three flags at a time. Laura Davis read prose about the flag as an American symbol of freedom and liberty as the flags were placed into the fire each round. The final round of flags included a California flag provided by the museum, a navy flag brought to the ceremony by a local Vietnam veteran, and an American flag donated from Steve’s Chevrolet Buick dealership in Oakdale. Davis played Taps on the bugle as the final flags were retired.
“It was such a privilege to attend an event that reminded us of our great blessings as a country, and provided an opportunity to honor our veterans and our flag,” said attendee Martha Patten. “I was deeply moved as the scouts marched in formation, with the aged flags folded and held to their chests. When the flags were then opened for the last time, and reverently lowered into the flames, I thought what a fitting way to pay our last respects.”
After the ceremony was complete, refreshments were served and the public had a chance to ask questions and visit with the veterans in attendance. The museum was also opened for touring with a special emphasis on a new war display. For many in the audience, this was their first time touring the museum with their children.
“We feel honored to have hosted the venue and are considering making it a yearly event at the Museum,” said museum representative Barbara Torres, a member of the Friends of Oakdale Heritage group that runs the facility.
Added attendee Melissa Kerr Ardis, “It was great to have the opportunity to participate in Daniel’s Eagle project. The feeling of awe and respect was overwhelming as the veterans shared their experiences and took part in retiring the flags. The event truly made an impression on me and I’m sure on all those that were present.”
Young Wolf Cub Scout Carson Kerr, 8, said he learned how to properly display the flag and about the need to respect it.
“It was really cool to stand and salute our American flags as they were being retired,” Kerr said.
Laura Davis, mother of Daniel Davis, said she is grateful for the leadership skills and patriotism that he has learned while being in the Boy Scouting program.
“It is an amazing feeling to watch your son organize and lead such an important community event. It was great to see the boy scouts working together for a common cause as they practiced some scouting skills like service, flag folding, fire making, and more,” she explained. “I appreciated the veterans who took their morning to come out to the museum to be honored. As one veteran was sharing with me, we are not born with patriotism, we learn it. This event was truly a teaching opportunity for all who attended.
“This will be an experience that stays with me and my children forever.”
For his part, Davis offered a big “thank you” to everyone who supported and made this Eagle Scout project a success. The project would not have been a success without the over 250 volunteer hours that went into planning, preparation and the actual ceremonies.
“I feel that this event turned out well. The boys were very responsive to authority and respectful during the flag retirement ceremony,” Davis said. “I think that the event turned out so well that I may do it again next year just for fun.”
This article was submitted by Laura Davis, who also contributed the photos from the event.