BOISE, Idaho — The American flag is a symbol of the country - and a symbol of freedom.
But what happens when a flag can no longer be flown?
The American Legion is a wartime service organization founded in 1919 that helps advocate and care for veterans. The Legion has posts all over the country, including ISCC Post #201, made up of people who have served our country - and now serve in a different way.
ISCC Post #201 retired a 20-by-30-foot American flag that had flown over the Washington State Capitol. But all things have to retire.
"We all have the same purpose in mind, and that's to pay honor and tribute to our symbol of freedom," Albert Ciccone, post commander of ISCC Post #201 said.
Old Glory was decommissioned after years of service during a Memorial Day Ceremony Tuesday morning.
"We're honored to be in that chain of honor, and custody of our nation's symbol of freedom," Ciccone said.
Freedom: A pillar of being American.
It's something we're born with.
It's something we can lose.
"I'm a lifer. I never get out of prison," Ciccone said. "So, I have to find a reason to get up every day. Why do I get out of bed? Why do I continue to serve? I was sentenced to a life sentence. I owe this state a life sentence. When I was alive and free, I served my community and my country. So, this gave me that opportunity to truly serve a life sentence instead of taking up space and be a burden to taxpayers."
American Legion ISCC Post #201 is made up of members from the Idaho State Correction Center. There have been 87 members in ISCC Post #201 since it formed in 2018, 40 members are currently active.
The Post has decommissioned 534 flags to date. They have also made 53,000 poppies in support of The American Legion Auxiliary Poppy Program, each poppy representing a $1 donation for hospitalized and disabled veterans.
They also use their bike shop at ISCC to partner with the Boise Bicycle Project, and even sponsor a youth baseball team.
"It's wonderful to rekindle that former sense of service self. We liked who we were when we were in the military. Once we ended up in prison, we lose a lot of that - we've lost that over the years, or through self-medicating addiction issues," Ciccone said. "This program helps rekindle that person, and remind them of who they used to be, and give them opportunities to interact with like-minded individuals and produce tangible results that have an impact in our community."
Giving Legion members a sense of community, camaraderie, pride, and purpose.
"If you can attach yourself to that, and you can help your brothers and sisters out. What greater calling is there? That's where the sense of pride comes from," Ciccone said. "Knowing that I might have kept that person around for another day, I might have gotten their feet aligned toward that door and marching back toward their family."
The American Legion has four pillars of service: Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism, and Children & Youth.
"Being able to see what your work does is crucial for genuine change. It's crucial to see that what you do matters, and this program offers you opportunities - multiple different ways to have a positive impact," Ciccone said. "Is it redemption? Maybe."
Honoring the cost of freedom, even though they've lost their own.
"Service comes with a heavy burden, it can be taxing. But the ceremonies are what recharged patriots, and we focus heavily on those ceremonies to rekindle that within these men. And it's easy, I mean, if you see the colors fly it stirs something in you. To be honored and trusted with all that we do, it's very humbling."
When a flag is retired, everything is reused - and everything has a meaning. The ashes are interred at veterans' cemeteries and parotitic monuments throughout the state. The brass grommets are recast into challenge coins for returning U.S. service members.
The American Legion has drop boxes in Boise and Meridian where you can turn in a flag to have it retired.
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