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METAIRIE, La. (WGNO) — In a tradition started by the American Legion during the 1930s, the “dignified destruction” of unserviceable U.S. flags took place at a 55-year, family-owned business along Veterans Boulevard in Metairie on Saturday evening.

A U.S. flag retirement ceremony was held at Bergeron Automotive and headlined by local American Idol star Faith Becnel, who sang the national anthem prior to the ceremonial cutting and burning of the flag, followed by dozens of others that were torn and tattered by Hurricane Ida last month.

“Truthfully there is something special about when I sing the national anthem and everyone talks about the meaning of the flag,” Becnel told WGNO. “It’s really incredible, you don’t hear that story about what the flag means every day.

“It’s super-powerful and I’m always happy to be a part of something with the national anthem.”

The event was the brainchild of Bergeron Auto sales manager Thomas Wyant Jr, who talked passionately about his desire to honor the flags left unusable by the storm, just as so many were damaged 16 years earlier to the date that Ida made landfall.

“When Hurricane Ida struck, I know we did this for Katrina when I was a lot younger, and it was just something that I really love doing,” said Wyant, who pitched the retirement ceremony to the dealership’s third-generation owner, McLean Bergeron.
U.S. Flags tattered by Ida receive age-old farewell along Veterans Blvd (Photo: Aaron S. Lee | WGNO)

“We wanted to do something that really commemorated freedom, and honoring freedom,” said Bergeron. “So, I’m glad [Thomas] came up with the idea, You know the anniversary of 9/11 – certainly that was big – but we were dealing with the storm. So, all the flags that could be donated from the storm were used to honor that event, as well as our freedom.”

Friends, families, fellow patriots, and firefighters from the Jefferson Parish Fire Department were on hand to watch members of the local civil air patrol lower each flag, one by one, into a flaming 50-gallon barrel of fire.

“I am the commander of a civil air patrol squadron, called the Pontchartrain Cadet Squadron, so we have teenagers from 12 to 18 of age in our program, and we do 85 percent of all inland search and rescue missions,” said retired Air Force veteran, Lt. Col. William M. Hunton.

“We do a lot for the community, we do a lot for America and it was an honor when we were asked to help with this ceremony tonight to properly retire the flags that were damaged during Hurricane Ida.”