Hosted by the Florida Seminole Veterans Foundation, Stephen Bowers served as emcee. Bowers was among a group of about seven veterans and other personnel who placed pieces of what were once Seminole Tribe of Florida, United States of America and Prisoners of War/Missing in Action flags into a brown barrel where flames took over from there.
The flags arrived at the Veterans Building no longer in service quality, having been tattered or torn from years of use. They were ready to be retired and the veterans were glad to provide the proper farewell.
“We thought this would be a great opportunity to have us, as veterans, properly, with dignity and respect, have the ceremony here,” Bowers said.
Bowers said he used to direct people who inquired about what to do with tattered or worn flags to other veteran groups because flag retirement ceremonies were not part of the Tribe.
“The idea came through me and [receptionist] Donna [Kahn] because I was getting calls from the offices [about the flags],” Bowers said. “At first, I told them to just drop them off at the local VFW or VVA, but after we talked about it we said we can do it ourselves.”
Many of the flags involved in the ceremony came from Tribal offices and residences. Bowers said the ceremony tried to follow proper retirement protocol as closely as possible, including the cutting of the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag before being burned.
“Each stripe is burnt individually,” he said. “I was told that if you burn the whole flag, you’re burning the flag, like in protest. But if you cut the stripes into strips you’re essentially not burning the flag; you’re burning what was a flag.”
At the start of the ceremony, Bowers read the “I Am Your Flag” passage.
Participants included Bowers and fellow veterans Billie Micco, Jack Smith Jr., Eddie Shore and Curtis Motlow along with Jim Schneider and Dan Hunt from the Okeechobee chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
A solemn part of the ceremony came when each veteran walked across the grass and placed strips into the barrel’s flames. After he deposited the last piece of the former flags into the barrel, Bowers stepped back, stared straight ahead and provided a final salute.
“I think the veterans appreciated doing something like this, and I think hopefully it will be an annual thing where the office managers for each of our Seminole Tribe offices can have a place to send their flags that are tattered,” Bowers said. “It’s disrespectful to fly a flag that is tattered and showing wear and tear; that’s why we want to have a central place to deposit each flag.”