Chelsea celebrates Flag Day

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 16, 2008

By AMY GORDON / Staff Writer

During a Flag Day ceremony Saturday, Chelsea Mayor Earl Niven told of his harrowing experience in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. As he spoke, not a sound was heard in Chelsea City Hall except his steady voice.

Niven told the crowd of 100 onlookers about how he and his sightseeing group was close to the World Trade Center when the terrorist attacks happened.

“We were about four blocks away when we saw the attacks,” he said. “We don’t have to imagine. We know what it was like on 9/11.”

Once the group made it back to Alabama, Niven had a flag put up on the old Chelsea City Hall as a tribute to those who died in the attacks.

“We love our country, we love our Lord and we love our city,” Niven said.

To celebrate that love of America, the city of Chelsea recognized Flag Day by holding a flag retirement ceremony for the flag Niven put up after Sept. 11, 2001.

For the ceremony, the flag was disassembled, with the stripes and the blue field cut apart. The different parts of the flag were then given to members of a color guard made up of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and retired Air Force Col. John Ritchie.

The color guard took the parts of the flag and led a procession outside Chelsea City Hall to a fire pit, where each member placed his or her section of the flag into the fire.

Breaking down the flag is important because it makes it a “non-flag,” which doesn’t have the same meaning as a whole flag, said Bob Wanninger, former Chelsea City Clerk.

Wanninger, who was a Marine in his younger days, was the driving force behind having the flag retirement ceremony.

“It brings the community together and fosters patriotism,” he said. “Some of the kids don’t feel that appreciation for our country. There are things you can do in the community to really help the kids, like this.”

Niven said the Flag Day ceremony was important because it showed the community’s support for American soldiers and American history.

“This is a way to say we are proud to be Americans, and we support our military people,” he said. “It’s a way to say that we as a city support America and the flag and everything it stands for.”

Niven, who served in the National Guard, said the ceremony held special meaning to him as a military man.

“It makes my spine tingle,” he said. “I am patriotic. I love this country and I love what the flag stands for.”

Ritchie, who led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance during the ceremony, said he has seen several flag retirement ceremonies, but the emotional impact never decreases.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” Ritchie said. “It’s a beautiful ceremony.