MIDDLETOWN—A lot of people made many sacrifices for their country and treating the flag with respect is a way of honoring that sacrifice, says Myron “Bucky” Simpson, a Minisink resident and Korean War veteran.
“A lot of people have given their life to respect that American flag,” he said.”If you’re going to fly the American flag, fly it in the proper manner.”
Simpson is the progenitor of Middletown’s two flag drops, converted postal boxes where people can put their worn out flags.
He got the idea after seeing a flag drop in Otisville, and when he heard that the post office was getting rid of their sturdy green and blue boxes, he asked if he could have them.
He now has two, one outside the Middletown Elks Club on Prospect Street and another at the American Legion on Wawayanda Avenue.
There is a similar flag drop in Wallkill Veterans Memorial Park that he said was copied from his idea.
“When the flag gets torn and tattered, that’s what these boxes are for,” Simpson said.
“You can bury a flag or burn it, but we don’t recommend you bury it because [if] you sell your house and somebody comes next year and wants to dig it up, they’ll dig the flag up.”
This way the flags can be disposed of with dignity, he said.
He set the flag drops up about 12 years ago, and at 83 he still diligently maintains the boxes, painting them to hide the rust, decorating them as their decorations get stolen, and taking out the flags on a weekly basis. When he goes to Florida during the winter, he gets help from local vets.
He has also been known to pick up flags. If someone is moving into a nursing home and cannot take their flags, he brings them to the Middletown American Legion where he is a member.
He estimates he has collected over 25,000 flags over the years, more than he ever expected. Last week, the Middletown American Legion had a flag-burning ceremony, something they do about twice a year, where he estimated they burned 800 to 900 flags.
“I don’t know what the people used to do with the soiled flags before I put these boxes around,” he said. “They must have just put them in a box and probably thrown them in the garbage.”
He said his parents ingrained a deep respect for the flag in him; if he let the flag touch the ground, his bicycle would be taken for a week.
He used to teach flag etiquette to Boy Scouts, but he says kids today don’t care about the flag like they used to, and he blames it on the parents.
“Flag etiquette starts in the home with the mom and dad,” he said “[They] need to teach the kid to respect the flag.”
Proper flag etiquette is being undermined by more than just lax parenting though. He said at West Point, the United States Military Academy, they put the flag parallel to the ground before their football games, something he says should only be done on a casket.
Another example, he says is the Olympics. The flag should never be worn as a cape, yet victorious American athletes are forever draping the flag over their shoulders as a sign of victory.
“Nobody’s going to come knocking on your door and arrest you, but the bottom line is you’re desecrating that flag,” he said.
The federal and state governments have “flag codes” meant to guide the public on proper treatment of the flag.
For example, the federal code says that flags should be raised at sunrise and taken down at dusk unless they are illuminated, in which case they can be left up 24 hours a day.
The federal code says nothing should be flown above the American flag, although it makes an exception for the United Nations flag in New York .
Flags should fly half staff during significant deaths and until noon on Memorial Day.
When people ask him what to do about short staffs that go out at a 45 degree angle, Simpson tells them to put a black strip of cloth at on the top to signify half staff.
Only when someone is in “dire distress,” such as on a capsizing boat, should the flag be turned upside down. Otherwise the union or the field, meaning the 50 stars, should be at the top left corner.
The federal code goes into great detail about the treatment of the flag, but because it is not enforceable, it says the guiding rule for any interpretation of the code should be, “No disrespect should be shown to the flag.”
One way that Americans can show respect for their country and their flag is with their wallets, Simpson said. He always checks the tag to make sure it isn’t made in China, Japan, or some other foreign country, and he tells others to do the same.
“Because to me, a flag that’s not made in America is not an American flag.”
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