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Retiring the nation’s colors

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer

It started with a collection. For weeks, boxes stood in the Dayton Pizza Factory, Central Lyon County Fir
BRAD HORN/Nevada AppealLife Scout Julian Ballatore-South, back right, assistant Scoutmaster John Alexander, in hat and sunglasses, and Dan South, Scoutmaster, behind fire, watch Boy Scouts burn an American Flag as part of Ballatore-South's Eagle Scout project during a flag retirement ceremony he organized at Dayton Valley Events Center Wednesday.
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It started with a collection. For weeks, boxes stood in the Dayton Pizza Factory, Central Lyon County Fire Protection District station in Dayton, the Dayton Library and Dayton Intermediate and High schools, waiting to fill up with faded, tattered, ragged old flags.

The Dayton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8660 donated many of the flags, as did American Legion posts, a few municipalities and area residents.

Then on Wednesday at the Dayton Valley Events Center and Rodeo Grounds, 153 flags met a fitting end thanks to a local scout’s efforts.

Julian Ballatore-South of Dayton was inspired by 9-11 to make his Eagle Scout project a retirement ceremony for as many old flags as he could locate.

“After 9-11, there was an abundance of flags,” he said. “But how they were tattered and needed to be disposed of properly.”

The fire pit, built of cinderblocks by Julian, 17, and about a dozen members of Boy Scout Troop 100 of Dayton, took about an hour to get hot enough to take care of the larger flags that would be destroyed there, as flag etiquette demanded.

From tiny desktop flags, to the flags some wave from their car windows, to huge flags suitable for flying from large poles or covering a veteran’s coffin, Julian and about a dozen members of Dayton Boy Scout Troop 100, collected saluted, then carefully burned the damaged national emblems.

As the smoke billowed out and the flames quickly consumed the first flag, Dayton Veterans of Foreign War Post 8660 Commander Stan DeStwolinski reflected on the effort his post helped sponsor.

“Each year we sponsor an Eagle Scout,” he said, adding that all the post did was provide flags; the effort was entirely Julian’s. “It’s a worthwhile endeavor for these young people to show due respect to the flag.”

Some of the flags were faded, others are frayed, and still others have gaping holes and tears, with stripes coming off. Dan South, the scoutmaster and Julian’s father, said the stems on the small flags are also burned.

“We try to remove the plastic where we can,” he said.

The scouting effort was a family affair, with Julian’s family, friends and veteran sponsors in attendance, but the effort was all his.

Lynn Ballatore, Julian’s mom, said she was proud he chose this for his Eagle project.

“They usually build something for the community or a charity,” he said. “But so many people don’t know what to do with the flag and they want to do it right.”

Julian, who will enter his senior year at Dayton High School next fall, said he had considered working to clean trails in Dayton State Park, where the scouts have camped often, for his project. But he said he was moved by the number of torn flags he saw. Having participated on one flag retirement ceremony before, he felt this was the right project for him.

“I know the first time I saw it I almost cried,” he said. “A lot of people feel that way when they see it.”

John Alexander, assistant scoutmaster and commander-elect of Dayton VFW Post 8660, said the boys had participated in flag retirement ceremonies at scout camp, albeit with fewer flags.

“We didn’t have nearly this many flags, but it was very emotional, when we explained to the guys what it all meant,” he said.

Their training paid off, as the boys took their responsibility seriously and of all the flags, not one was dropped or allowed to touch the ground. When one of the larger flags, carried by some of the smaller boys, looked like it might touch some dirt, an older scout rushed to grab the errant section.

Julian saw the ceremony as a way to honor his country and his flag, as he led the younger scouts in the process, and explained to the audience the ceremony and the history of the flag.

“If a flag is no longer a dignified mark for the nation, then it is supposed to be retired in a dignified manner,” he said.

– Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or by calling 881-7351.