Community Donates Retired Flags to American Legion Post 244 Flag Box
Writer: Julie Engelhardt
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to go inside of or just drive by the American Legion G.I. Joe Post 244 in Jeffersontown, then you’ve been in the presence of a truly historical site.
The original building was constructed in the 1940s and dedicated in 1949. The first structure was rather rough, with dirt-packed floors, a wood-burning stove and an outhouse, remaining that way until about 1956. The idea to designate it as a ‘G.I. Joe’ post, which stands for “Government Issue Joe,” came from veterans returning from World War II. It depicted the typical G.I. Joe as created by American editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin in his popular drawings from that era. Though the Post’s membership was rather small for some time, it began to increase in the 1960s as Jeffersontown began to grow in its own right. It is currently the only service organization in Jeffersontown.
The American Legion organization will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year in 2019. It was originally chartered by Congress as a patriotic veterans’ organization, focusing on service to veterans. Today, membership is more than two million in more than 13,000 posts worldwide.
One proud member of Post 244 is John Wright. Wright, a former Marine, has been a Certified Service Officer on the Executive Board for the past 23 years. This position keeps him extremely busy, working with veterans and their families and to actively assist local youth at churches, schools and with the Boy Scouts of America. Wright explains that members often attend Eagle Scout ceremonies to present them with the American Legion medal for attaining this important rank. They also train scouts to perform in color guard units where they participate in flag ceremonies during Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day programs.
Earlier this year, Wright’s involvement with the Boy Scouts presented him with the opportunity to work with one young man, Eagle Scout candidate Parker Robinson. Eagle Scout candidates are required to complete a project that will in some way benefit their community. Robinson chose to install a new flag retirement drop box at the Post. Wright explains that this is something that was greatly needed at their location.
“Our post does one of the largest flag retirement ceremonies in the world,” Wright says. “We retire tens of thousands of flags on June 14, Flag Day. We probably retired anywhere from 30 to 32,000 flags this past Flag Day.”
Initially, people had been dropping off their old and tattered American flags daily at the post, in bags or boxes, by the front door. With the new drop box, the community is able to properly deposit them and then Wright or other members will gather them. The receptacle is just a little smaller than a mailbox, equipped with two doors: one where the flags can be deposited and a bottom area that unlocks with a key to retrieve the items.
With several hundred flags being collected each week, it’s impossible for them to be kept at the Legion Post. Once gathered, the flags are taken to one member’s farm away from town. They are stored in his barns until the next year when plans are made for the upcoming flag retirement ceremony. Three or four days before the event, the old flags are piled on wooden pallets and soaked in a flammable material for several days. The actual ceremony beings at dusk, with the flags being lit on fire, and Wright says they burn through the night, with flames reaching 40 to 50 feet in height. He says that the ceremony is huge, with people coming with their campers and tents to watch the proceedings and staying through the night as the flags continue to burn.
Robinson began his career in scouting at the age of six as a Tiger Scout with Cub Scout Pack 711. He diligently worked his way up through Cub Scouts, and then he crossed over to Troop 56 which is chartered through the Fern Creek United Methodist Church. Throughout his scouting career, Robinson was required to meet certain goals and earn a variety of merit badges in order to advance in rank. In order to reach the rank of Eagle, Scouts must have earned at least 21 merit badges, serve in a leadership capacity while in the troop and plan and prepare a project that will in some way benefit their community. After considering certain projects, he landed on the idea of installing a flag retirement box.
“Scouts do a lot of flag retirements, but I didn’t really know where we got the flags,” Robinson explains. “I’d heard that people would bring them to the Posts, but I wasn’t exactly sure. I started looking online and found that other Scouts had installed flag retirement drop boxes as their Eagle project, so I wanted to do the same.”
Robinson says that he originally wanted to install the box at Veterans Park in Jeffersontown, but that idea was shelved because of construction taking place. “So, we got in touch with the American Legion and they suggested we put the box at their post because people dropped off flags there all of the time.”
The process to complete an Eagle project involves several steps, says Robinson’s Scout Master, Huston Brown.
“The usually have the idea for their project or know of a need somewhere in the community, Brown explains. “It’s their job to follow up with the beneficiary, which in this case was the American Legion. They then have to write up a proposal using a packet that’s available to them and then they seek approval from the council to move ahead on the project.”
Brown is very impressed by Robinson’s worth ethic and pleased that he has been able to become an Eagle Scout. “He’s very independent as well as very analytical, which I’m sure he gets from his dad. He’s also a very thoughtful young man, helping out as much as he can,” he says.
One aspect of completing an Eagle project is to enlist the help of volunteers. Robinson worked with his father, Tim, in the planning process, and his step-mother Linda who was instrumental in designing artwork for the box. At times scouts will utilize other boys from their troop to help, but Robinson says that since the project was on a smaller scale he didn’t need a great deal of assistance as he would have on a larger project.
“We first cut up the asphalt and we poured a new concrete pad,” he says. “That had to cure, and once that was complete, we drilled into the new pad and put the box in and secured it. And then we decorated the box with decals and instructions and the flag code that tells how the flag has to be retired.”
The new box was installed in May 2018, ready to take on deposits for the Flag Day retirement ceremony.
G.I. Joe Post 244 in Jeffersontown is located at 3408 College Drive. Flags can be deposited any time, day or night. To find more information about the Post, their services and upcoming events, visit gijoe244.org/post-officers/. For more information about the National Boy Scouts of America, visit scouting.org, and for information about the local Boy Scout Council, visit lhcbsa.org. For further information on how to properly retire an American flag, visit flagsusa.com/flag-retirement/.