Friday, November 28, 2014

So, how did it go?

I realize I owe an update after the last entry about Geoff's project. Photos are up in my flickr account, if you want to go through there and get the overview starting on Veterans Day and then going through the ceremony that he had.

Our boy hosted a flag cutting/destroying clinic to teach people about how to properly prepare flags for retirement by burning. Only a couple of cub scout moms and their boys stuck around for this - it disappointed me greatly that there was a really good turnout at the Veterans Day Observance, but no one stayed to learn about this.

It didn't bother Geoff.

We had about 20 scouts and parents cutting up flags. Geoff demonstrated how to cut out the field of stars, cut the stripes and lay them in the field and then fold it all up together. The scouts and leaders (and one of the scout's Grandmas!) were really interested in his demonstrating. They all listened really carefully, and everyone set to work immediately after he cut the first flag up.

We used twine to seal the flags up so none of the stars would lose their stripes.  We tried to keep  the nylon from the cotton (they got all mixed in again) because the nylon flags can't be burned due to toxic fumes. We recovered nicely though, and at home got things organized.

We were there, in full or in part, until 4:30pm. It was chaos, slightly organized, and I was super impressed with the scouts who did so much work, and the dad who stayed and helped me clean up because honestly... we messed that room up with dust and dirt and detritus and threads and strings and ...

As the week went on, people were calling and offering more flags.

The day of the ceremony, we were still cutting and preparing flags. Geoff and I were sitting in the kitchen, in silence, cutting small cemetery flags and folding them.

All told, there were 130 cotton (or almost cotton, there were some renegade polyester ones mixed in) for the ceremony day itself.

And my study is still full of nylon flags. More on that later.

We got everything and everyone over to the park and Geoff had invited two guys who were once in our troop who are now Marines to come and do an honor guard.

He had a chosen a giant flag to demonstrate the "dismantling" of the flag, as one veteran called it later. It may not have been the right flag to pick because the shears didn't want to cut the seams at certain points and it was kind of a struggle for me to sit there and watch him fight with the scissors, as a left hander and ... well. He handled it well, and the crowd was really patient watching him do his work. He had volunteers helping him out, and he had a method that ended up working out okay.

He had prepared a great speech which was fully "Geoff" in every way, shape and form, with great
depth and understanding about the seriousness of the ceremony. I had told him that people consider this a "funeral" for a fellow soldier, so there would be no joking, no matter what. So he did a tremendous job, with perfect seriousness, and I couldn't have been more proud.

After the flag was cut and folded he had someone read a poem, and then asked everyone to go outside.

The troop had brought some small backyard fire pits to the park, and built fires in each of them. Geoff had overseen that process prior to the ceremony. When I got up to go outside I couldn't believe how many people were there in the room. At the beginning of the ceremony, I thought again only our troop was there. But the room was full of veterans, townspeople, and folks from my church who also came over to support the event. And by the time the crowd all came out, the fires were going great.

He had asked his grandfather, a Vietnam Veteran, to place the first flag on the fire. Geoff and I found this really cool call and answer script online and thought we'd have the Marines day it to one another, but we changed it so the Marines asked Geoff's grandfather the questions.

I heard someone crying softly behind me while I was taking some pictures. I had goosebumps. This was very impressive.

Gary placed the flag on the fire. Geoff had arranged a classmate who plays trumpet to come and play Taps, and he nailed it, so perfectly and beautifully. I was terrified he wasn't going to make it, because the boy that he usually would have asked is in our troop, and he is off at College so he missed all of this. That made me super sad, that Christopher couldn't be here for this. But ... Geoff's classmate worked out great.

As the first flag burned, the Marines saluted, and everyone stood there in silence. You could have heard a pin drop Geoff announced that veterans, Eagle Scouts, Scouts, and anyone in attendance who wanted to would be welcome to place flags on the fire.

The entire time, the Marines stood at salute for the flags being retired, cremated, fellow "soldiers" in this world representing the country they serve.

Participants lined up, and took their flags and laid them on the fire in a slow, silent procession.

My only criticism of the process is that there were too many flags placed too quickly and the fires got brutally hot.

Geoff had a small box of the cemetery flags that we'd prepared that morning and he went over to the cub scouts in attendance and gave them to the kids to place on the fire. The fires were way too hot for the little ones, and I wanted to stop them - they were too enthusiastic though, and really wanted to participate.

One of the women I go to church with has two twin boys who just joined Scouts so they were there. Initially they were scared and a little nervous. I told them they could go get flags and place them in the fire and one of them very politely told me "no thank you, I'm all set." But when Geoff came to them with the box and encouraged them, they smiled and joined in.

Eventually the flags were all burned, and people stood there quietly watching them burn. I gave Geoff a look and a nod, and he announced that people were free to go and thanked them for attending. The marines still stood at salute so I told him he should make some sort of pronouncement to "release" them from their positions.

All kinds of people were thanking him, and congratulating him, and he had a bona fide smile on his face as people got ready to leave. It was truly overwhelming to watch my son shaking hands with strangers and thanking them for their support.

As people left, the troop took care of reducing the fires and getting the ashes into a can so we could transport them home.  He had so much support, and gave great instruction and guidance to the younger scouts. It really was a great day.

Look, this is me and my family.

Tradition states the ashes are to be buried, so Geoff took them out into the woods behind our house and buried them, alone.

Next? The box has to get built. Geoff has to arrange for the nylon flags. He can bury them whole somewhere, and we researched that he can get them to a funeral home and they will retire them with a veteran being cremated.

There is still work to do on merit badges, and I'm riding his ass to get things done.

He'll be the death of me, but I am not going to let him fail this close to the deadline. Honestly. No way. I will push him sighing and hemming and hawing at this point to the finish line.

And here's advice for parents with Scouts - if they hit their Life rank at 16? Start that Eagle project right then. Do not wait until the last minute.

All told, I know we'll get there. But ... it's gonna stress me out. Pray for me. And him.

One last note, here is a picture of Geoff with the Cub Scouts from our church. They live in another town, and their mom has been reluctant to start them in the program. But they go to a private school, and she wanted them to socialize with neighbors, and .... I am happy that she signed them up, and after a few weeks they're enjoying themselves. And then getting to attend this event, and see something they've never done before...

Our friend Steve from Church would have been incredibly proud of this moment. So proud. These boys, the big one and the littles, stand on the shoulders of a great man. And to live up to his standards which he set with love and care... I know Geoff will never forget him for all the support he gave, and I hope the little ones remember him enough to think of him as they live the cub scout life and go ahead to Boy Scouts. I hope.


  1. Anonymous5:33 PM

    Beautiful, brought tears to my eyes. What an amazing learning experience, I had no idea that this was the way to retire flags. I am sure that you are very proud.

    1. That is why he chose the project. He's done a lot of community education, and the whole demonstration thing was great because people didn't say a word. it was ... very moving.

      we can see the finish line here... pray for us that we get there with all the paperwork done and everything in tact.