American Legion retires flags during ceremony

Group is dedicated to helping veterans and their families

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About 140 flags were set aflame Sunday afternoon during a ceremony of honor and respect.

The local American Legion post held the retirement ceremony for flags that have worn out after waving over homes and businesses for years.

"They get weather-beaten and torn in the wind, and when that happens, they have to be retired," post commander Mel Shockley said.

The flags are retired by burning them and then burying the ashes. Shockley said such a ceremony is the only legal way to dispose of the American flag.

The organization also burned Colorado state and prisoner of war/missing in action flags collected from community members.

Shockley said there is no set schedule for retirement ceremonies. He decided one was needed after hearing it had been about 30 years since the last one in the area.

"It hasn't been done around here in a while is what I've been told," he said.

So he and other American Legion members used diesel fuel and an empty barrel to dispose of the flags. It's just one of the services the group performs in the community.

The Mark Anthony Evans-Lawton Moffat County American Legion Post 62 has been incorporated since 1929. The worldwide organization was founded in 1919 by World War I veterans in Paris. It has grown to the largest veterans organization in the United States, Shockley said.

The local post recently added Evans-Lawton to its name in memory of the Army staff sergeant from Hayden who was killed in August of 2003 while serving in Iraq.

"Our main objective is to help veterans and their families," Shockley said. "That's what it's all about, being there when you're needed."

The group holds fundraisers to give college scholarships, sponsor the American Legion baseball team and donates to the Fisher House in Denver, a housing facility for families of patients in the veteran hospital.

"Every American Legion post in the state of Colorado has donated to hurricane victims," Shockley said, "to military victims whose homes where destroyed."

The group also puts on school presentations on flag etiquette and lobbies government to maintain veterans benefits.

"We push our politicians to do the right thing," said Michael Lausin, Sons of the American Legion (SAL) commander.

The American Legion includes 42 local members, and also includes sub-organizations who support their efforts. The group is open to anyone who has served in the military stateside or overseas.

SAL is a group for sons and grandsons of military personnel and the auxiliary currently is for wives. But Shockley said the group is working to change that, to include both genders.

"We have a lot of female veterans and there's nowhere for their husbands to go," he said.

Luann Williams is the president of the auxiliary and has been involved for three years. She said her mission is the same as that of the local Legion post.

"(Veterans) need help," she said. "Whatever they need help with, that's what we do."

For more information, or to get involved, call Lausin at 629-1316.

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209.

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