In a time that marks the aftermath of January’s siege on the Capitol and last summer’s riots in the streets of big cities, “Old Glory” stands, now more than ever, as a symbol of hope for unifying of our nation: “One nation,” as the Pledge of Allegiance says. In honor of the American flag, when it comes time to retiring them, it’s taken very seriously.
On Tuesday, March 16, at 10 a.m., the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority and Abbey Glen, a member of the Regency family, hosted the eighth annual American Flag Retirement Ceremony at the NNJ Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery. Due to Covid safety protocols, attendance this year was limited to those members of the Sussex County American Legion and veterans’ organizations conducting the ceremony.
“We used to bring our flags to the American Legion on Flag Day each June 14th,” said Renee Casapulla, outgoing Sussex County Municipal Authority’s Recycling Coordinator. “They started saying that they could not accept the thousands of flags we had as they burned them in an open pit and pollution was a big concern.”
She said that flags used to be made out of wool or cotton, but these days, they are made out of nylon, polyester-based materials and other synthetic fabrics. The result of burning them in the fashion they did at the Legion resulted in plumes of black smoke.
“We started looking for another place, and it took a good eight months to discover that the local pet cemetery (Abbey Glen in Lafayette) had a crematorium on its location,” Casapulla said. “The former owners were veterans and offered that we use their crematorium to properly retire American flags.”
The partnership began eight years ago.
“The way that it came about is that we got inundated with so many flags after 9/11,” Casapulla said.
The event has always been a public one with a ceremony, but this year, due to the pandemic, it was not publicized and kept very small.
“Usually there’s lots of participation from local veterans and boy scout and girl scout troops,” she said. “This year was so different.”
It did, however, include something very special to acknowledge Casapulla’s retirement and years of service to the Municipal Authority. This year’s ceremony was conducted on behalf of retired Navy veteran James Casapulla Sr. (Casapulla’s father-in-law), who passed away in January. His wife, Deanna Casapulla, received the official flag from the Honor Guard.
Over 8,000 pounds of flags were burned, which is bigger than a pick-up truck.
Flag code followed
The ceremony followed the National Convention of The American Legion “Ceremony for the Disposal of Unserviceable Flags,” per the United States Flag Code, Section 176 which states: “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
Participants of ceremony included: The Sussex County American Legion Honor Guard (Post 86). John Harrigan Vietnam Veterans of America (Wallkill Valley Chapter 1002), the Sussex County MUA staff (including Veterans), and the Abbey Glen staff. “The Star Spangled Banner” was sung by Katie Williver.
The goal of the program is to renew awareness of the need to provide environmentally sound alternatives for the final disposition of our national symbol. Abbey Glen is noted as having the first New Jersey Department of Protection-issued facility air permit, for the annual combustion of American flags. As a result of this program, the approximately 8,000 pounds of flags collected at the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority Recycling Center have been properly incinerated under state and American Legion guidelines, with the ashes retired in a place of honor at the Northern New Jersey Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
Dawn Latinscics of Hampton is the new recycling coordinator and started several weeks ago. Latincsics formerly held several titles at Sussex County Community College, including Health Science Program Coordinator, Security Environmental Health & Safety Coordinator, and Compliance Officer. Between her keen business sense and love of the environment, she was selected as the perfect choice to succeed Casapulla.
“It’s a tough job,” Casapulla said. “You’re out in all kinds of weather at the Recycling Center, and we see about 22,000 cars go through per month. We have a small staff, but they give their all, and I see Dawn as a perfect fit with her enthusiasm, work ethic, and attention to detail. She’s very organized and I see her taking some of our programs to new heights.”
“The way that it came about is that we got inundated with so many flags after 9/11.” Renee Casapulla