With a set of clean unused scissors and a group a volunteers of the Warrior Bonfire Program, dozens of American Flags were prepared and stored for upcoming Bonfire American Flag Retirement Ceremonies. Every Bonfire retreat that is held as part of the Warrior Bonfire Program, host a flag retirement ceremony in honor of our Purple Hearts fallen brothers and sisters. Here, each attending Veteran receives a red, white and blue strip to retire into the flames as the words set forth by Congress are read aloud.
Members of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 112 of Jackson, MS spent hours dismembering old glory, in the most respectful of ways, with clean scissors, never letting it touch the ground and removing the union first. After having read aloud the ceremony shown below, they got to work. "This looks easier than it is, not only is it tedious but it's emotional as well" stated one of Warrior Bonfire's top volunteers, Bobbie Chapin. "My husband served in Vietnam, so my heart is close to the military, and to think of all those that serve and sacrifice while we were preparing these flags got me choked up!"
As the group worked and the thoughts wondered to all those service members who fought under our glorious flag, that these ladies know personally, a realization came to light that stopped their hearts in just a moment of wow! "It's D Day!" exclaimed on of the ladies. All fell silent and the magnitude of the price of freedom became incredibly real!
The process in which the Warrior Bonfire retires the American Flag, serves as a therapeutic tool to help those we serve to find peace and sometimes closure. Most of these men and women never had the opportunity to attend a formal memorial service to face the loss and lay their friend to rest. "At the bonfire it was good to get the bad memories out, once it was over I felt at peace, something I haven't felt in a very long time," explains Purple Heart Stephen Blair.
A dilemma we sadly face too often at our Bonfires explained by Purple Heart Chet Brown, "Losing 7 guys on one day, I was worried about only having 3 pieces of Flag. Inside they all know how I felt. It was the first time I said their names "out loud" in 16 years." Although each participant receives only three stripes to retire, they are welcome to take as much time as they need to name their friends, tell their stories, shed the tears and hug it out with others. These stripes are more than just pieces of flags, they are pieces of our nations soul.
We thank Bobbie Chapin and the ladies of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 112 of Jackson, MS for their time and respect. Their service in this manner is incredibly important to the therapeutic value that our Purple Heart Veterans receive, on our retreats.
Learn more about the Warrior Bonfire Program by using this link, warriorbonfireprogram.org
Bridging the gap between the military and civilian worlds.
Every time we bring together civilian volunteers and our Purple Heart Veterans, the gap between the two groups is lessened tremendously, however, this gap is often not as huge as many Veterans may think. The gap is a perceived notion that civilians, those that have never served in the Armed Forces, don’t have a clue or ability to understand the mind of a Veteran, much less a Combat Veteran. It is incredibly difficult for the combat wounded Veteran to see, that civilians do care about their well-being and that the sacrifices made really did matter.
Memorial Day weekend on Lake Sam Rayburn at our 77th Bonfire retreat, a handful of professional fishing guides were paired up with a handful of combat wounded veterans. A powerful interaction for both groups to learn about the other. Throughout the weekend a common mantra emerged, “Stand For Something”. This thought is always in the mind of the Veterans but for these civilians it created a sense of awareness and understanding they wouldn’t have had otherwise. For the Veterans, Memorial Day weekend brings a heavy heart, “we all know the losses it takes to give us the freedoms we have, the freedoms that are paid in blood. These days are much easier to bear when we come across people who live good honest lives.” Aaron Allmon, retired combat photographer
Giving of your time as a civilian to volunteer or donate your resources to Veterans who have to manage daily, the lasting effects of war, be it cognitive dysfunction, mental distress, or major physical permanent injuries, means more than you can imagine. When our Veterans come home and see the lack of respect for our freedoms that allow people to be incredibly selfish, it’s hard for them understand what they were fighting for to begin with. After a weekend of connectivity with volunteers who truly gave of their time and resources, left every one of our visiting Veterans the feeling that the sacrifices and blood shed was worth it. “These are good people, to leave their families on a three day weekend to support us, it helps us to know it was all worth it.” Purple Heart Graham Golden
We worried that hosting one our events on Memorial Day weekend would be a bit too rough, we were proven wrong as it opened a new conversation that helps close the gap. For Justin Peltier, one of our volunteers for this events said, “to listen to stories that they sat next to their friends that died in combat only for they themselves to make it out alive…, those things you can’t reset or redo, you can’t begin to understand the feeling they have when talking about their fallen comrades.” To Justin and all those that volunteer their time, you don’t have to fully understand to get it. The act of listening, truly hearing them, and not judging them or questioning their actions, means the world to them. Knowing that you care, is life altering and in some cases lifesaving.
Click here to see more photos from this retreat!
Thank you to our partners & fishing guides for help making this Bonfire Retreat possible!
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.