NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP – For the second year, officials at the Delaware County Veterans Memorial held a flag retirement ceremony on Flag Day, which was Wednesday.
Over 200 damaged and worn American flags were disposed of in a fire pit that sent a column of smoke over the memorial along West Chester Pike.
Memorial president, Joe Daly, a retired Marine who served two tours in Vietnam — and is the current Springfield Township police chief — welcomed the organization’s new connection with Comcast, and said the memorial will make the Flag Day ceremony an annual event for flag retirements.
Chaplain Justin Cohen noted that the flag is more than a piece of material but a symbol of the greatness of the nation.
A group of children from the kindergarten class of Garret Williamson gave a performance of “You’re a Grand ‘Ole Flag” and, following a number of speeches, a color guard from the Smedley D. Butler Detachment of the Marine Corps League led attendees carrying the flags to be destroyed across the memorial campus to the fire pit, where the flags were placed, with many saluting the symbol of the country.
Veterans saluted as bugler played while Newtown Square Fire Company Deputy Chief Christopher Young, a veteran himself, doused the flags in lighter fluid and threw a flare onto the pile.
The Stars and Stripes has a deep history linked to our nation’s symbol of strength and unity.
The familiar red, white and blue flag design was adopted by Congress on June 14, 1777, and first flown in battle at Brandywine Battlefield in September of that year.
Delaware County Council member Kevin Madden noted the man responsible for Flag Day lived in the county.
William T. Kerr, a longtime resident of Yeadon spent over 65 years trying to create the commemorative day. He met with seven U.S. presidents and hundreds of congressmen in his quest.
“He stood at President (Harry) Truman’s side as he signed the Act of Congress declaring June 14th Flag Day in 1949,” Madden said.
Flag Day is considered the most appropriate day to hold flag disposal ceremonies for worn and damaged American flags. Most of the flags disposed of were collected from homes and businesses across Greater Philadelphia and northern Delaware by members of Comcast’s Veterans Network.
The flags came from the Operation Old Glory program, which replaces old and damaged flags in the community with new ones, free of charge, regardless of whether the owners are customers.
Employees respectfully knock on the door of a house with a tattered flag and offer to replace it.
Jeff Tontarski, an 18-year employee with Comcast was the first flag ambassador. He originally learned about the program from a friend and thought it was an awesome idea.
“I’m not a veteran but have a lot of family members who are, I saw it and I love the country and love the flag and thought it was a great idea,” Tontarski said Wednesday before the ceremony.
“We get a lot of different reactions from people: Some are really awesome, some just stare at us like we’re crazy,” he said.
He still keeps in touch with the first person he approached.
“It took me about an hour to get the courage to knock on the door,” Trontarski said. “I’ve personally replaced between 350 to 400. I stopped counting a long time ago. I do it for the flag and the company, not the numbers.”
He said some people he’s spoken with said they’ve kept the old flag for reasons such as it was a gift, and one person’s old flag had a flown over the U.S. Capitol.
Overall, the program has replaced over 900 since it began in 2017.
Additional flags were then thrown into the blaze.
They were from the Smedley Butler Marine League, American Legion Post 805 and the VFW of Broomall had collected at their posts as well as a number of collection boxes throughout the community.
The memorial board of directors and Delaware County Council announced six Delaware County veterans as Freedom Medal Honorees, recognized for their service and accomplishments in both the military and their local communities.
The 2023 Honorees include John Church Jr., Army; Tina Crowding, Navy; Anthony DeLuca, Army; Mary Donahue, Marine Corps; Richard J. O’Brian, Army; Mark A. Robinson, Marine Corps.
Additionally, the memorial associated announced that Comcast was the 2023 Dedication to Our Country and Community Award recipient, and Martin Holahan was recognized with the association’s Presidents Award.
“The honorees are a remarkable representation of the most honorable and accomplished veterans in our community,” Daly said. “We are proud to recognize their service to our country and the community at large.”