A new component has officially been added to a longtime Memorial Day tradition at Gorgas Park.
After making three other stops in Wissahickon and Roxborough, members of the 21st Ward Veterans Association concluded their Memorial Day parade with a flag retirement ceremony at the Roxborough park yesterday.
The traditional service, which included a rifle salute, wreath laying and remarks at the 1919 War Memorial, brought out a mix of veterans, families from the neighborhood and members of local Boy Scout troops.
Bruce Hoffman, president of the 21st Ward Veterans Association, said the flag retirement ceremony was implemented to teach attendees how to properly dispose of an old American flag.
“When a flag is worn or torn or damaged, that’s when it’s time to retire,” he said. “We normally separate the stripes from the stars and then we burn it.”
Retiring the flags
The new ritual was supervised by the father of a Boy Scout who has been collecting, burning and educating community members on the procedure for the past seven years.
Roxborogh resident Fury J. Colubriale started collecting tattered, old American flags for an Eagle Scout badge in 2005 at the age of 14. His goal was to collect 2,000 flags, but he ended up with thousands more.
And that was just the beginning.
“We’re now up to 25,000 flags that he collected throughout the years,” said Colubriale’s father (also Fury Colubriale), who said his son was not able to make it to the ceremony.
Colubriale said the addition of the retirement ceremony to the already-popular Gorgas Park Memorial Day ceremony was a big hit.
“Walking down, [guests told me that they] really appreciated the ceremony,” he said. “Even a World War II veteran said it’s amazing because he’d never really retired a flag.”
That veteran was 88-year-old Frank Rauscher, who signed up for the Navy when he was 18 years old.
“It made me feel great for all the guys, eight fellas on my ship that never made it,” he said. “405,399 died in World War II and most of them were teenagers. I could have been number 400 but the good lord was with me.”
Rauscher said he served in the Navy for four years, two months and 16 days.
A day of remembrance
Hoffman said the ceremony was a good reminder that veterans, like Rauscher, are what the holiday is all about.
“People have to remember that the reason we have Memorial Day is for this, not for the barbecue,” he said. “It’s not a day off, it’s a day for us to remember those who give us our freedoms.”
Mike and Jean Boles, who each burned a piece of a flag, said they like attending events like this to educate their six-year-old son on why the day is important.
“It’s not just hot dogs and hamburgers,” Jean said. “They’re not just days off; they mean something.”