SANFORD - A Sanford woman is on a mission to help people properly dispose of American flags.
Marjorie Lewis is working to let people know that flags can be placed in the bright red and blue retired flag box found just inside the doors at the American Legion Thomas W. Cole Post 19 at 656 Main St. in Springvale at any time.
The effort comes naturally to Lewis, who has a family history of military service and who is a member of the American Legion Auxiliary and a volunteer at the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society and Books Revisited.
“Five or six years ago, one of the members of our American Legion post, a World War II veteran, built a red and blue receptacle that is in the entryway of the American Legion building to hold American flags that are beyond repair and need to be replaced. These flags will then be retired properly,” said Lewis, who grew up in Sanford and moved to New Jersey in the mid-1950s, before returning to the area in 1989.
The box for the flags has been available for the public to use since it was placed there, but Lewis has had several conversations recently about flag disposal.
“When I heard someone say, ‘What do I do with the flag?’ when talking about a flag beyond repair, it got me thinking that people might not know (about the box) or need a reminder that the box is there,” she said.
The American Legion post keeps the flags until they can be disposed of in a proper manner with a flag ceremony. The American Legion post performs the observance about once a year.
“In the fall we do a ceremony outside our building to burn retired flags, which is the proper way to dispose of them,” said Post 19 Commander Gary Metzger. “Last fall it took four or five hours to take care of them all.”
Lewis, a widow with six children and four grandchildren, goes about her day quietly volunteering, reading, or writing letters to friends and family. She said her aim in talking about flag disposal is to get the information out there.
“I hope people know I just want to help. This is not about me in any way,” said Lewis. “The flag is a symbol of our country. It means people have died for it.”
A member of the “Greatest Generation,” Lewis has a strong belief in proper care of the flag and, like others in her generation, is humble about sacrifices that came along with the war years of the 1940s.
“We all just did what we had to do, that’s all,” said Lewis.
Military service has been and is part of the lives of many in the Sanford area. Lewis is no exception. Her father and father-in-law served in World War I, her husband, son and grandson have also served in the armed forces. Her husband was a bombardier on a B-17 in World War II, and Lewis remembers it well.
“He was in the Air Corp. His plane was shot down over Germany. We were engaged at the time,” said Lewis. “He had told me that he was going to bring home his parachute for a wedding gown, because it was made of silk. Well, he had to use it that day or there wouldn’t have been a wedding.”
Fortunately, it was near the end of the war and her soon-to-be husband was only held as a prisoner for a short time. In a twist of fate, he was recognized by a nurse in a hospital in London he was taken to after his release.
“She was from Sanford and called her brother, who then called my future in-laws to let them know he was there,” said Lewis. “They got the word before the government got it to them.”
Lewis’ husband died in 1972. She has remained active in the American Legion Auxiliary and hopes that people understand that the proper disposal of the flag is significant to many.
“It’s important to care about the flags and each other,” she said.
For Metzger, who said that anyone is welcome to drop off a flag in the retired flag box at Post 19, neglect or improper disposal of the flag is hard to bear, personally.
“I fought for that American flag,” he said. “To disrespect it feels, well, like a slap in the face.”
A CLOSER LOOK
Flags can be placed in the retired flag box just inside the doors at the American Legion Thomas W. Cole Post 19 at 656 Main St. in Springvale at any time. For more information, call 324-5354.