Flag Stuff

How many times has this happened to you?
You awake to yet another glorious Arizona dawn. You tumble out of bed and immediately engage in your ritual, 40-second sitz bath, splash on some brisk perfume or aftershave, wink into the mirror and stride out to the garage to retrieve your neatly folded Arizona state flag from the special shelf where it has rested since being lowered yesterday at dusk.

You lift the banner reverently and continue striding, directly out to your personal flagpole.

You unfurl the sacred cloth as you do every day--but just a second. What's that down there on the seam of the thing? Why, it's frayed, slightly tattered, a bit worse for wear and tear. Ripped, even.

Your lower lip almost begins to tremble, but you muster the fortitude to keep it firm.

"Oh, well," you think, "another flag has flown its last."
Back in the garage, you approach your special cedar chest that holds spare Arizona state flags, pluck one out, affix it to the flagpole and raise it into the cloudless blue sky that attracts so many tourists to our wonderful state each year.

Now here's the problem: How to dispose of the old, worn-out flag?
Sure, most citizens know that if it's the Stars and Stripes that needs destroying, United States Code Title 36, Chapter 10, section 179 delineates the precise procedures involved. Songs, prayers, recitations, methodical cutting and burning of the Red, White and Blue.

But this is the Arizona flag. There are no rules, are there? Yet you want to show respect, right? You don't want to just lob the highflying beauty into the trash along with all those empty amyl nitrate poppers and back issues of Soldier of Fortune.

Of course not. And now, thanks to legislative resolution 1011--Worn Arizona Flags; Proper Disposal of--you don't have to.

It was back in 1917 that Nan D. Hayden, Arizona's answer to Betsy Ross, put needle and thread together to sew the first state flag. She was working from a model created by colonel Charles W. Harris, familiar to Arizona adjutant-general buffs as Arizona adjutant general from 1912 to 1918, and then again from 1923 to 1928. In his spare time away from general-adjutanting, the colonel was also keen on flag design.

He concocted one for the Arizona Rifle Team, and it was such a hit with the fellows that it was decided that our state flag should look almost identical.

Artistic Colonel H.'s stunning ensemble incorporated a field of blue symbolizing Arizona's membership in the United States, lovely swaths of red and gold representing the colors carried by Spanish conquistadors during their North American getaway in 1540, a simply smashing copper-hued star highlighting not--as some have suggested--the colonel's unique eye for color, but Arizona's bountiful copper output, the largest in the country, thank you very much. To finally complement the whole package with just the right touch of homespun dramatic flair, our man added the rays of the setting sun.

Yet from that historic day in 1917 when Nan bit off the last piece of blue thread and stepped back to admire her handiwork, up to February 3 of this year, anyone wanting to get rid of a used Arizona flag in a formal, sanctioned fashion would have been out of luck.

Remarkable but true.
God only knows how many dilapidated state banners have wound up in Dumpsters, or ended up faded and forgotten in musty attics.

What did it take to remedy this situation? A patriotic lobbying group? A high-powered government official? Some benevolent corporate sponsor?

No. It took a Girl Scout.
It took Rachel Nye, 16-year-old 11th grader from Globe, Arizona, who is interested in musical theater, opera and "traveling around the world."

And she is also interested in the proper destructive treatment of our flag, Old Azzy.

For years, scouting organizations have been among the proud destroyers of shabby United States flags, going through the choreographed ritual time and time again. One day, Nye and her fellow scouts were making a dead-flag sweep, going from business to business collecting flags that were ready for the honorable fire pit.

"There was one business we went to and they didn't have any U.S. flags, but they had an Arizona flag and they didn't know what to do with it," Nye explains.

Simple research revealed that there were no rules on the books. Consequently, Nye was in search of a Gold Project, something one does to achieve the highest level of Girl Scoutdom, similar to the rank of Eagle Scout.

Nye had her Gold Project.
Based on the rules and regulations for U.S. flag retirement found in the Girl Scout handbook, Nye drafted a version for Arizona flags--"It was my idea and I wrote the whole thing." This came to the attention of state Senator Ruth Solomon of Tucson, who shepherded the resolution through the proper channels.