Leading up to Flag Day today, the Laramie Boomerang published an article about the ceremony taking place this evening at American Legion Post 14. Part of the ceremony each year includes burning unserviceable American flags, meaning those that cannot be restored for proper display. It’s a deeply moving sign of respect for the flag as those that cannot continue to serve as symbols for our nation shouldn’t be discarded in landfills or littered elsewhere.
The article included a photo from the 2017 ceremony showing a man holding a burning flag. When shared on social media, it garnered a reaction from people saying it was in bad taste to display such a photo. The idea seemed to be that some at first glance believed it to be a flag burning in protest. Some said they believed the newspaper was intentionally trying to provoke that reaction with an assumed malicious intent.
As the Boomerang’s editor, it was my decision to use the photo. And while I always appreciate feedback, I can tell you that I unequivocally stand by my decision to use that photo.
One person said the photo didn’t accurately represent what takes place at the Flag Day ceremony. Well, as someone who has been to several, I can tell you that is absolutely what happens at a Flag Day ceremony. Flags are burned by people whose reverence for the symbol is of the highest regard. The American Legion Post 14 has a deposit box for unserviceable flags, which they later burn. The Legion also sells American flags.
Why then should it be so sensational or even offensive to include that photo with our coverage? Because some people had a reactionary response without looking into what was actually taking place in the photo or what the story was about? Or to protect the sensibilities of those who claim respect for the flag but haven’t attended a Flag Day ceremony and evidently don’t know how to properly dispose of their own American flags when they become irreparably tarnished or torn? I reject that.
And look, the photo had the effect of drawing attention to the fact people can attend a Flag Day ceremony to show respect for service men and women and our nation. I hope that people who were upset by the photo attend the ceremony and experience the emotion of sending the flag off, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I hope people who were previously unaware of the practice now know that this is how they should dispose of their own flags. The photo started a conversation that should raise awareness of these things. Without the photo, many probably would have scrolled right on past the article.
There’s a tendency in this nation today to look for reasons to be offended. It’s an inclination that’s not owned solely by conservatives, liberals or anyone in between. People seem to be so backed into their own socio-political corners that they’re dying for a reason to pick a fight when something appeals to anger.
It’s that anger that is driving people apart in the U.S. and around the world today. In situations where there are differing valid points of view, we seem to find it impossible to agree to disagree. Then there are situations, like with the aforementioned photo, where people say and do things without really understanding what they’re reacting to.
In the former circumstance, I encourage everyone to try to understand opposing viewpoints. Walk a mile in other people’s shoes. Think about what others fear and love and need. In the latter, I hope people take a moment to evaluate information before they react in anger. All it would have taken was simply clicking on the link to read the article and understand the photo. Those who had time to post a comment must have had time to read the short article.
If it still upsets people, again, I hope they take a chance to experience a Flag Day ceremony so they can understand why, from the perspective of someone who appreciates the ritual, using that photo was powerful and appropriate.
Joel Funk is the managing editor of the Laramie Boomerang. He is a Cheyenne native and graduate of the University of Wyoming.