By Ileen Kennedy
Utah National Guard
Streams of people entered the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds. Some in patriotic red, white and blue colors, others in military, scout, police and fire uniforms. There were local city and county officials and Spanish Fork City royalty, as well as Little Miss Spanish Fork Royalty and Queens, all entering as the evening sun started to lower over the distant mountains. Young children walked hand in hand with their parents past the large U.S. flag that waved in the wind above the arena.
All had come with a similar purpose, to pay homage and final respects to the symbol of this great nation. The Spanish Fork Flag Retirement Ceremony had a humble beginning 24 years earlier as less than 50 people gathered in the parking lot of the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds to pay last respects to the U.S. flags that had so proudly waved. The ceremony has since grown to welcome thousands who attend or volunteer to participate in this solemn ceremony.
Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 145th Field Artillery, “the Animals,” headquartered at the Utah National Guard’s Spanish Fork Armory has continuously supported the Spanish Fork Flag Retirement Ceremony for the past 24 years.
“It’s great for me to come around,” said 1st Sgt. Clint Ray Markland, Charlie Battery, 1-145th FA, noncommissioned officer in charge. “I have Soldiers where this is their first event and I get to tell them, hey by the way, 21 years ago was my first time doing this event. And this is what it’s become now. We really get to pass on city traditions, Guard traditions, and national traditions in this event.”
Another Soldier that participated in the very first event in 1999, and continued to participate and attend the ceremony over the past 24 years was the keynote speaker, Command Sgt. Maj. Spencer Nielsen, senior enlisted leader for the Utah National Guard, and longtime Spanish Fork resident.
“This event is special to me because I started my military career in this community,” said Nielsen. “I was training NCO [noncommissioned officer] of Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 145th Field Artillery, the Animals. It’s great to be a part of this, for all of the 24 years of this flag retirement's existence. I’m glad we take responsibility to pay honor to our country and to our flag at this event each year and I hope we do it for generations to come.”
As the ceremony proceeded, members of Charlie Battery carried the largest U.S. flag to be retired that evening, across the arena to finally rest on the flames that billowed below it. Once engulfed in flames the Soldiers gave a final salute then turned and stood ready to receive additional flags.
“I love having the Boy Scouts here, they are always a big help for us. It’s something I think they probably will never forget. I know I will never forget it, which is why we keep on volunteering to come back,” said Staff Sgt. Casey Shaheen, gun chief with Charlie Battery, 1- 145th FA.
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, civil air patrol, naval sea cadets and other youth groups walking single file, enter the arena carrying folded flags. The Soldiers at times had to reach down to take the flags out of the outstretched hands of a young child. Then as a group, the Soldiers would turn, walk towards the flames, and toss the folded U.S. flags onto the flames. Once again, they stood and gave a final salute to complete the dignified retirement of the symbol of our country.
“This is an awesome event, and you just need to pause and soak it all in,” said Markland. “It [the fire] gets so hot, and our faces are burnt, and we are wearing gloves, and our uniforms are stinky, and it becomes an inferno of an event, that really is something you love doing.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony as the last U.S. flags were consumed by the flames and the 23rd Army Band concludes performing its last song, members of Charlie Battery do what they have trained to do, by firing a 21-gun salute with the 75 mm cannon.
“I love it [the U.S. flag retirement ceremony], it is something that you should really behold because it’s something not a lot of people get to do,” said Shaheen. “Sometimes it straightens out a few misconceptions about the flag and how to properly dispose of them.”
The entire ceremony has a solemn feeling as each flag is retired, a sense not just for the people on the field, it is a sense across the entire crowd. An awe-inspiring sense that’s filled with patriotism for this great country we live in and call home.
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