SPARTA — Sussex County veterans and members of the public honored local fallen service members as well as symbols of the United States Tuesday morning during the seventh annual flag retirement ceremony at the Northern New Jersey Veterans Memorial Cemetery.


The ceremony, conducted for the first time in the cemetery’s reception building completed last year, featured a presentation by American Legion Post 86 in Newton of flags no longer serviceable due to years of flying. Per the United States flag code, flags no longer fit for display should be “destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”


“A flag may be a flimsy bit of printed glaze or a beautiful banner of finest silk,” John Hanson, commander of the Sussex County American Legion, said at the ceremony. “Its intrinsic value may be trifling or great, but its value is beyond price, for it is a precious symbol of all that we and our comrades have worked for and lived for and died for.”


Since 2014, Abbey Glen Pet Cemetery and the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority have partnered to collect retired flags and burn them at no charge in the pet cemetery’s crematory. In addition to ensuring a proper disposal of the banners, the procedure ensures an environmentally friendly method of retirement that does not release harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.


According to SCMUA recycling coordinator and safety officer Reenee Casapulla, more than 6,000 pounds of flags have been collected at the SCMUA Recycling Center and retired under state guidelines during the partnership.


“Let these faded flags of our country be retired and destroyed with respect and honorable rights, and their place be taken by bright new flags of the same size and kind,” Hanson said in concluding his remarks, “and let no grave of our soldier, sailor or airman dead be unhonored and unmarked.”


Following the retirement ceremony, attendees were given a bag of ashes from flags retired at the most recent ceremony to spread over the graves of veterans buried at the cemetery. The flags retired Tuesday, in turn, will be burned to ashes that will be used at the next ceremony.


Kyle Morel can also be contacted on Twitter: @KMorelNJH, on Facebook: Facebook.com/KMorelNJH, or by phone: 973-383-1292.