By Debbie Adams
Several Boy Scout and BSA scout units joined together at the Vinton Farmers’ Market on Dec. 7 for a Flag Retirement Ceremony in observance of Pearl Harbor Day, including Troops 235, 50, 51, and 17, along with Pack 51.
The ceremony had originally been planned for Nov. 11, Veterans Day, at the Vinton War Memorial, but inclement weather forced its postponement.
The Flag Retirement Ceremony included the playing of the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, the recitation of the Scout Oath and Scout Law, and the incineration of hundreds of American flags deemed “no longer fit for display.”
The United States Flag Code states: “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
The flags retired were collected over time by the scouts and the Williamson Road Northwest Hardware. The number included many from Scout Leader Rick Wimmer, who passed away in 2018, and Kelley Moore, a registered nurse for the VA who passed away in the spring of 2022 and was a devoted volunteer with scouting.
James Doran III, a former Roanoke County firefighter/paramedic/training officer who organized the flag retirement event, estimated that the scouts retired three to four pick-up truck loads of flags over a three-day period.
For this ceremony, the scouts used a drug incinerator from the Roanoke City and Roanoke County police departments instead of the traditional burn barrel. According to scout leader Richard Cohen, “These devices are designed to eradicate drugs and create a very high temperature, so they work well on retiring flags without emitting any of the fumes that burn barrels used to do.”
Vinton Police Chief Fabricio Drumond, and Richard “Barry” Hensley were the guest speakers.
Chief Drumond served in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, Iraq, Djibouti, and in Cuba. Hensley was a colonel in the U.S. Army, now retired, a former board member of the Blue Ridge Mountains Council, former Council Commissioner, and is currently a guide at the D-Day Memorial.
In his remarks, Hensley talked about honoring, respecting, and taking care of the American flag.
Chief Drumond spoke about “the tragedy of Dec. 7, 1941, and “American Exceptionalism and those who define the meaning.”
“American Exceptionalism is a powerful terminology that resonates within the heart of every American citizen, specifically during momentous occasions or in time of need,” Drumond said. “It is deep-rooted in the foundation, culture, and faith of our nation. We identify our nation as a democracy of immigrants, a one-of-a-kind union with enormously diverse cultural customs and more unique characteristics than any other country in the world. It is the qualities of every American that shape our nation.
“As a collective group and inscribed in our nation’s name, we are all ‘United.’ We love our land and we believe through God’s grace, American Exceptionalism will always prevail. Those that choose to attack our homeland and our American way of life will never prevail because we, the American people, cannot be broken. Tragedies such as Pearl Harbor charge the American spirit and illustrate the proof of American resilience and determination.
“So that brings us to today– National Pearl Harbor Day. Today is a day where we pay tribute in quiet reverence and remember our American values as we pay respect to a tragedy that shook the core of our nation and had a profound impact on an entire generation.
“Eighty-one years ago, Dec. 7, 1941, our beloved homeland was subjected to a Japanese air assault on our Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. The attack on our homeland will not only be remembered for the tragic loss of American lives, but as a pivotal point in our American history.
“Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in hopes to not only destroy our Pacific Fleet but to weaken the resolve and the will of every American. The assumption the Japanese made of the Americans was wrong.
“In stark contrast, despite its devastation and enormous loss of life, the attack on Pearl Harbor had the opposite effect. That effect and Japanese sentiment is captured best by a 1970s film, where I quote, ‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.’ While the quote in itself is unverified, it remains true. An unprovoked attack enraged the American people. It woke up a sleeping giant. It woke up the fighting spirit of the Greatest Generation.
“Pearl Harbor triggered what would be the entry of the United States into World War II. The day following the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the American people and in quick succession, Congress declared war against Imperial Japan. In a matter of days, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
“In all, over 2,400 lives were lost during the Pearl Harbor attack, 19 U.S. Navy ships and battle ships were damaged or destroyed. Within minutes of the attack, the USS Arizona was critically wounded.
“Lieutenant Commander Samuel Fuqua, a Missouri-born sailor, was eating breakfast when the USS Arizona’s air raid system sounded the alarm. He rushed to the quarterdeck only to be met with heavy enemy fire. Despite being concussed from a shell that exploded nearby, Fuqua began directing return fire. A second bomb was catastrophic; it hit the ammunition magazine of the ship killing more than 1,000 sailors. Despite the chaos, he ignored his own well-being, ignored the air assault from incoming Japanese aircraft, and, while ankle deep in water, while still holding a cigar in his mouth, led evacuation efforts out of the USS Arizona.
“Fuqua exemplified a warrior’s heart and illustrated the tenacity and will to fight despite the danger around him. Now the senior most ranking member of the vessel, he was last to abandon ship. He and fellow service men commandeered a boat and saved additional sailors from the now fuel-enraged harbor. For his actions, Fuqua was awarded the Medal of Honor.
“Army Air Corps pilots George Welch and Kenneth Taylor were awakened by the sound of the initial attack and sprang into action, driving to Haleiwa airfield while dodging Japanese planes. They would be the first two Americans to get airborne in the P-40 fighter planes– two American pilots versus hundreds of enemy planes. Both men repelled the enemy’s attack, conducted counter dogfighting operations, and destroyed at least six Japanese fighters and bombers.
“Undoubtedly, we suffered a traffic loss of life, a day, as President Roosevelt described it, that will live in infamy. We honor the sacrifices of many and the heroic efforts by all. We salute the Americans of that time, a generation that fought for a better future, a generation that transformed an enemy into our greatest allies. We give thanks to what is defined as the Greatest Generation.
“As Americans, we all have an inherent duty to protect the sovereignty of our nation. Young Americans join organizations that build the integrity and character of the future leaders of our nation. I thank the Boy Scouts, a wonderful organization that paves the road to success– an organization built with a servant’s heart.
“As young adults and the next generation of American leaders, continue to hone your skills, maintain the course and be loyal to the community you serve.
“Our communities thrive when people translate their abilities into action. America is better when people put their faith into action. Challenge is part of the process. To get something you never had, you need to do something that you have never done. Never give up on anything you set your mind to do. Nothing in life worth doing is ever easy. Carry yourselves with the dignity and pride that I know you have and expect the best from yourself.
“Always remember that leaders do not set out to be first, instead they set out to serve others.”