ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
You just don't throw Old Glory away.
"You show the same respect you show a fallen warrior," says Mike Batnick, with American Legion Post 138 in University Place.
In almost total darkness, Batnick, fellow legion officer Lew Foster and a dozen-and-a-half Cub Scouts line up behind their Pierce County meeting place.
Except for one industrial lamp on the building next door, the consuming flames will provide all the light.
Twenty-four worn, torn and tattered flags, no longer serviceable, some as small as 2-by-3 inches, will be retired with proper ceremony.
The key element throughout is respect.
"It's touching every time," says Foster. "I get choked up over it -- even talking about it."
One by one, Batnick places a flag onto the flames.
Some retirement ceremonies recite the names, in order, of the 13 original colonies: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island.
This evening Scouts will read words of praise from notecards.
The Pledge of Allegiance is spoken.
For Batnick, it's the "reaffirmation of the pride in serving and how proud I am to continue to see that flag. I am willing to fight for that."
All salute in almost total darkness.
For more photos, visit the gallery.