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May 25, 2010 7:12 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Veterans want residents to stop trashing American flags

May 25, 2010 7:12 PM

At the most recent meeting of the American Legion Chelberg & Battle Post 388 in Sag Harbor on Monday, Tom Cartino made an announcement that elicited gasps and mutters from the 30 or so veterans in attendance.

“Recently—but it’s happened quite a few times—I’ve found the American flag in the garbage,” he said.

Mr. Cartino, 64, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and now works for Southampton Town’s Waste Management Department, said he has seen too many flags lying among the trash at the town’s transfer stations—and he added that is time to do something about it.

“A lot of people died for that flag,” said Mr. Cartino, who lives in Sag Harbor.

His peers at the local American Legion post echoed that sentiment again and again on Monday—a week before Memorial Day and the official start of summer on the East End.

“It’s a big symbol, and that’s why I think it should be treated accordingly,” said Bruce Winchell of Sag Harbor, who serves as the adjutant of the post. Mr. Winchell served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

There is a proper way to retire the colors, Mr. Cartino said, and he and others are urging residents to leave their tattered flags in the hands of military veteran groups, which perform regular ceremonial burnings at various times during the year.

“There are a lot of people who just don’t know. But there are a lot of people who could care less,” he said.

Members of the American Legion Post in Sag Harbor collect worn and faded flags in bins at their Bay Street headquarters throughout the year. Each June, American Legion members, along with members of the Sag Harbor Veterans of Foreign Wars post, retire the flags in a ceremony, according to Ralph Ficorelli, 77, of Sag Harbor, a Korean War veteran who serves as post commander.

Mr. Ficorelli explained that the flags are ceremonially burned in barrels in the parking lot of the Sag Harbor post headquarters at noon. This year, the ritual will be held on Saturday, June 12, he said. Other American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts hold similar ceremonies throughout the country, usually around Flag Day, June 14.

“I’ve seen it happen before, where people destroy flags and things, and it’s not right,” Mr. Ficorelli said. “People have fought for that, and for our rights and our freedoms, and that represents who we are. And it’s completely wrong to dispose of them in any other way.”

Mr. Cartino said that in the last week of April, he encountered a man who was dumping a flag at a Southampton Town transfer station in North Sea. The man told Mr. Cartino that the flag was dirty and his wife was going to buy a new one.

“I said, ‘Please don’t do that. This is our county’s flag. It should be treated a lot better,’” Mr. Cartino said.

Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi, who spoke at the May 24 meeting at the American Legion post, said he will propose a resolution in early June that would authorize Southampton Town to set up flag receptacles at transfer stations and other town facilities. The resolution will also solidify a partnership with local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, which will collect the flags and retire them appropriately, Mr. Nuzzi said.

The councilman said he thinks many people throw American flags away out of ignorance rather than disrespect. “It’s just an educational effort, and I thank the veterans organizations for bringing the idea forward,” he said.

The American Legion Hand-Aldrich Post 924 in Hampton Bays holds a ceremony each August to retire flags that are left at its Ponquogue Avenue headquarters, according to member Nick Lombardi, who served in the Army during the Korean War. The post also occasionally drops off some of the flags at a crematorium in Wading River.

Either way, the important thing is that the flags are burned, Mr. Lombardi said. “They’re not supposed to be buried,” he said. “They have to burned, according to the flag code.”

Brian Carabine, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a past president of the East Hampton Veterans of Foreign Wars post, said his group has a different take on flag retirement rituals.

“We just respectfully burn them a couple of times per year,” he said. “We don’t make a ceremony of it.”

Like other veterans groups, the East Hampton post collects worn out and faded flags in bins. The burnings take place outside the post’s headquarters on Montauk Highway in East Hampton, said Mr. Carabine, 67, who served in the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He added that average citizens can also dispose of flags themselves by burning them in their backyards.

“It all depends on the way you want to look at it,” he said. “Our post just feels it’s something that has to be done, and we just do it quietly. But I understand if you want to do it in a more ceremonious way. We all have our different ways of doing everything,” he added.

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This is sad. The American flag stands for so much to those of us who really care about this country. It is a symbol of unity & freedom. When I see a flag flying I think of how lucky I am to be in this country & think of those who gave their life to protect what we have here. This country is losing its perspective as to what is important in life.
By Ms. Jane Q. Public (147), Southampton on May 26, 10 3:40 PM
It always takes a story like this to remind us of our patriotism and remember the men and women who have or are fighting for our freedom and rights. Remember after September 11 where everyone had flags in their front yards; flags hanging out of their car windows; bumper sticks supporting our country; safety pins with red, white and blue beads; and wreaths decorated with red, white and blue lights at Christmas?
Thank you, Mr. Cartino, and the Sag Harbor American Legion for bringing this to ...more
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on May 26, 10 4:14 PM
Mr. Caryino and the American Legion feel like true Americans in this country and it is a shame to see this going on. It is all so a shame to see a school in California place the Mexican flag above ours and hang our flag unside down.
Time for people to get back to being proud Americans
Thanks Again Mr Cartino and the American Legion
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on May 26, 10 4:55 PM
By fdny7318 (60), Water Mill on May 26, 10 6:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
I'd like to see people care for their flags as I was taught by my WW II vet dad: take it in at night; don't keep it out in the rain; don't wear it as clothing; don't use it as decoration on your clothing. It's a powerful symbol, and having an American flag tshirt or handbag only cheapens it.

By CalHampt (2), Hampton Bays on May 27, 10 12:55 PM
1 member liked this comment
My dad was a WWII vet and my husband is a Vietnam vet; and I never realized that wearing clothing with an American flag on it was offensive to anyone. I apologize for my own part in this and thank you for bringing to my attention.
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on May 27, 10 1:35 PM
Typical of the people moving in to the Hamptons lately. They only care about one thing ,themself. They could care less about their neighborhoods let alone our American Flag. Its about time the police started giving out summonses for littering.
By LongIslander (43), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 1, 10 9:04 AM
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