An old red mailbox is anchored to the sidewalk in front of city hall in Lenoir City. While it may appear to be a normal receptacle for stamped letters, upon closer inspection the box is clearly not intended for mail.
"The drop box is something we installed back in 2006," said Joy Morgan, regent for the General William Lenoir Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. "We installed it here so people would have a place to dispose of old United States flags."
Morgan said the idea for a flag disposal box came from seeing the service offered in front of the post office in Sweetwater. The DAR chapter eventually obtained a retired mailbox and had a local body shop paint it red.
"In the five years since we installed it, we have probably collected about 3,000 worn out flags. People did not know what to do with their old flags so they were holding on to them instead of just throwing them away," said Morgan. "You should not display a flag that is damaged or worn out. If the flag is faded or tattered, it should be disposed of and replaced."
Once the flag is dropped in the disposal box, it begins a star spangled journey towards retirement. Groups such as Boy Scout troops, the American Legion, and the Veterans Honor Guard eventually dispose of the collected flags properly.
"We probably fill the box up twice a week. We save the old flags in the basement of the police department until they can be retired," said Morgan. "For Flag Day we have teamed up with the Veterans Honor Guard to have a flag burning ceremony at the Highlands Park."
"It is in the law that when a flag is retired it must be burned," said Maj. Roy Salton, commander of the Loudon County Veterans Honor Guard. "The flag should be disposed of properly. It should be handled properly from beginning until end. We also offer to replace flags that people are retiring with new flags upon request."
A brief and respectful ceremony was held at noon on Tuesday. The ceremony concluded with members of the Honor Guard incinerating hundreds of flags in a fire barrel.
"The flag means everything to me," said Salton. "I think it is wonderful that we can treat the flag that so many people have fought and died for with the respect it deserves. The ladies with the DAR deserve a tremendous amount of credit for filling this need within the community."
"It means a lot to me that something so glorious and precious is disposed of properly," said Morgan. "The people who deposit these flags have to park and walk over to the drop box, so it is obviously people who really care and want to honor the flag."
Flag Day commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777. In the 234 years since it was adopted, the nation has also adopted official rules and regulations on how the flag should be handled, displayed, and disposed of in a proper manner.
"I don't think a lot of people know the rules of the Flag Code," said Salton. "A lot of times the rules are broken by people who mean well, so I don't say anything."
A common example of violating flag protocol is by wearing what some intend to be patriotic outfits. That American Flag jacket or your favorite stars and stripes necktie is actually disrespecting the flag. The Flag Code states, "The flag should never be used as wearing apparel."
"The code also says the flag should never be used in advertising," said Morgan. "That code is obviously broken all the time, but it is technically deemed disrespectful to use it in that way."
The field of stars should also always be in the top-left corner of the flag, even when the flag is displayed vertically.
The Betsy Ross homepage at ushistory.org provides the entire text of the Flag Code. It also features an etiquette page with common examples of misuse of the flag, including questions about who can order the flag be lowered to half-mast. In addition, the site includes a somewhat humorous wall of shame with some examples of blatant violations of the Flag Code.
Other examples of Flag Code violations can be seen at a blog titled Flags Gone Wild as well as the"Tattered" photo essay by Seth Butler.