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Catonsville Boy Scout seeks tattered U.S. flags for retirement ceremony

Jack Callahan, 17, of Catonsville, is a Boy Scout who is collecting tattered flags for a retirement ceremony to earn an Eagle Scout rank.
Jack Callahan, 17, of Catonsville, is a Boy Scout who is collecting tattered flags for a retirement ceremony to earn an Eagle Scout rank. (Jeffrey F. Bill)

A Catonsville High School student and Boy Scout is soliciting donations of old, tattered U.S. flags not fit to be flown in order to retire them properly every Sunday at Catonsville’s Farmers Market.

“I hear a lot about people just having an old, beat-up flag in a box in the corner of their basement,” said Jack Callahan, a 17-year-old Life Scout with Boy Scout Troop 306 in Catonsville.

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Those flags “most likely will never see the light of day again," he said. "I wanted to retire them correctly, and at the same time, help the community understand why you can’t really just let them sit in a damp corner for 30 years.”

Callahan will be stationed at the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce’s farmers market at 15 Mellor Ave. on the next two Sundays in June from 9 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. to collect the flags, which will be retired in a ceremony at the Dewey Lohman American Legion Post 109 in Halethorpe, and live-streamed on Callahan’s Facebook page.

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Clyde Thomas, a member of Post 109, said he has been surprised to learn, throughout the years, that many people, including many servicemen, are not aware of the proper way to retire U.S. flags. He said explaining why it was important to respectfully retire the flag is like answering the question “Why do we breathe?”

“Many people, unfortunately, after they’ve had a flag for some time ... they just kind of put them in the trash,” the U.S. Navy veteran said.

That’s why Callahan’s efforts are important, Thomas said.

“It will educate a heck of a lot of people,” he said.

Per the United States Flag Code created in 1923 by the American Legion’s National Americanism Commission and then adopted into federal law in 1942, U.S. flags deemed to be unserviceable — meaning they are no longer fit for display — should be disposed during a flag-burning ceremony, often done by American Legion posts on Flag Day, June 14.

The ceremonies often involve veterans reading a formal resolution prior to the burning, Thomas said. Callahan intends to read the resolution himself during a July 5 ceremony that he will live-stream on his Facebook page.

Depending on social-distancing measures, Thomas said he and other Post 109 members plan to attend the ceremony.

Although Baltimore County has aligned with the state’s phased reopening, allowing outdoor religious gatherings and permitting malls and other nonessential businesses to reopen, guidelines from public health experts maintain that citizens should stay at home when possible, especially those who are most at-risk of developing coronavirus complications, such as those with underlying health conditions or residents 65 years or older.

Those who do travel are encouraged to wear face masks and keep a 6-foot distance from others.

The project will help Callahan elevate his rank from Life Scout to Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America and one that only 4% of all Boy Scouts have achieved.

Callahan said that after he graduates high school, he’s considering pursuing a degree in either engineering, or enlisting in the Navy.

“The flag deserves as much respect as you can give it,” Callahan said. “It’s not really a symbol of certain parts of the nation, it’s a symbol of everything [within] the United States ... the people that live in it, the people that serve for it as well as the land itself.”

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