Bob Serotta saw bunches of grand old flags Sunday.
Their red and white stripes were tattered and torn. Their star fields were shades of faded blue.
They still deserved respect — but they also deserved retirement.
That was part of Serotta’s plan at the Price Chopper supermarket on Altamont Avenue in Rotterdam. Serotta, an Army veteran and commander of the Rotterdam-based Lt. Vibert O. Fryer chapter of the Disabled American Veterans, worked with the Schenectady Home Depot and secured 60 polyester-cotton, made-in-the-USA star-spangled banners free of charge.
He announced an offer in a story that appeared in the June 5 edition of The Daily Gazette — anyone who brought him a distressed flag would leave with a new 3-by-5 model. The idea came to him earlier this spring, during drives around the Schenectady area. He saw flags in rough shape, and began thinking about ways to retire and replace them.
The free exchange program started at 9 a.m. By 9:45, 38 flags had been distributed.
George Sykala of Rotterdam was one of the first to receive a new stars and stripes.
“This one is going to the George Westinghouse-Bellevue Veterans Park, near the Bond Funeral Home,” he said, adding that wind had damaged the park’s flag.
Owen Bennett of Latham was also at the store early.
“It was getting to the point where I didn’t want to put it out any more,” he said. “Now I’ve got a new one.”
Others had similar reasons for replacements.
“We knew our flag had seen better days, we didn’t know what to do with it,” said Karen Williamson of Guilderland. “We wanted to properly retire it.”
Chris Battiste of Niskayuna made the exchange and said he received his first lesson in flag etiquette when he was in the second grade. He had placed an American flag on the floor of his classroom, and caught criticism — and a kick — from his teacher. “It impressed on me the need to dispose of the flag properly, and show respect for the flag,” he said.
Pam VanAlstine came from Amsterdam to drop off her old flags. “It’s hard to find a place that will take them,” she said.
Other veterans from the Vibert O. Fryer chapter and members of Boy Scout Troop 357 in Rotterdam were also on the flag detail. Scouts helped on exchanges, and also passed out printed pages on flag etiquette.
“They do flag etiquette from the time they join Cub Scouting,” said Scoutmaster Dave Miller of the Scouts’ participation. “So it’s part of the whole organization. And anytime you get them to do anything with any kind of veterans organizations, what these guys represent, what they stood for.”
Scouts have always worn American flag patches on their uniforms. Miller and Serotta both said worn flags are accepted at veterans organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. The Scouts will also take them.
“We do flag retirement ceremonies,” Miller said. “When we go camping, we’ll do a ceremony at night sometimes where we take flags, and each boy will have a turn putting a retired flag into the fire to dispose of it properly. Anytime, anybody can bring them to us. Any event we’re at, we’ll take them.”
Some people bought several flags to the store, and a few said they did not need a new one in return. Other people wanted to make donations, but Serotta refused almost all of them. The last flag was given away at 10:50 a.m., and all the new flags should be flying by Tuesday — Flag Day.
“It’s a good feeling that the people want to dispose of them properly,” said Serotta, who lives in Niskayuna and is a former member of the Schenectady County Legislature. “Some of these people have commented they’ve been sitting on the flags for a while, not knowing what to do. That’s a real positive thing they’re disposing of it properly, showing respect for the flag.”
More than 100 flags were collected, and will be destroyed in a ceremony at American Legion Post 1092 on Union Street in Niskayuna. Serotta thanked Home Depot for supplying the flags and said he’d like to run another flag exchange program next year.
“We weren’t here looking for donations,” Serotta said. “We were here to get these tattered flags out of circulation. I think we did a great gob. We were hoping to get 60 off the poles and we got 100.”
The one monetary donation Serotta accepted came from 88-year-old World War II veteran Richard Horstman of Jonesville. Serotta said he was not going to refuse a contribution from a senior veteran.
“Buy yourself some more flags,” Horstman said.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.
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