The tattered one Reid Brown brought had hung proudly from his front porch for 10 years.
The shriveled one Isabella Mecinski pulled from her purse wasn't even hers. She found it on a walk, took it home to wash, decided the two holes in it couldn't be mended and, rather than dropping it in the garbage, drove the tiny flag -- about the size of a cocktail napkin -- from Towson to Parkville so it could be disposed of properly.
"You don't throw a flag away," she said. "Not the American flag."
What do you do when Old Glory becomes more old than glorious? You burn it -- discreetly if you are a private citizen, with flourish if you are an American Legion member.
Or, as Brown and Mecinski did this past week, you bring it to an American Legion post, take off your hat, put your hand on your heart and watch your flag -- with a little help from Kingsford lighter fluid, gusty winds and the Sons of the American Legion -- go up in smoke.
The Sons of the American Legion, a division of Parkville's American Legion post -- the second largest in the nation -- performs the elaborate "disposal" ceremonies two or three times a year, depending on how many used flags accumulate.
These days, more are. Almost nine months after Sept. 11 triggered a boom in flag purchases, many are starting to show signs of wear and tear, especially those flown from cars and those outside homes that are not taken inside (as is recommended) at night.
The Parkville post, like others, accepts retired flags year-round. Many of them hold public "disposal" ceremonies on Flag Day, which is Friday.
"We don't use the word burn, because we're totally against flag-burning," said American Legion member Jerry Coleman, editor of the post's newsletter. "We dispose of them."
Six flags were disposed of Tuesday night -- some that had been dropped off earlier, some brought by the 30 or so members of the public that attended. "I don't know if it came off a little flagpole or not," said Mecinski, who had two brothers in World War II, as she handed over the tiny flag she found outside her high-rise apartment building in Towson.
While the post had more than six flags in need of disposition, the Sons of the American Legion, a group consisting of male descendants of American Legion members, or sons of deceased wartime veterans, disposed of six because that's how many members of the group were available to perform that role in the ceremony.
After a practice drill in which they marched and pretended to carry flags, the Sons, who took over the flag disposal responsibilities at the Parkville post two years ago, began the ceremony, which involves three commanders, a sergeant-at-arms, color guard and chaplain.
Holding the flags in front of them, the six -- all in short-sleeved white shirts, dark pants and legion caps -- marched to one commander, then across the parking lot to another commander, then across it again to a third.
To each, they presented the flags for inspection.
Then they marched back to the first commander, who, based on the recommendations of the two vice-commanders, pronounced the flags unserviceable.
"A flag may be a flimsy bit of printed gauze, or a beautiful banner of finest silk," said the commander, Al Derrenberger, a systems technician for Verizon. "Its intrinsic value may be trifling or great; but its real value is beyond price, for it is a previous symbol of all that we and our comrades have worked for and lived for, and died for -- a free nation of free men, true to the faith of the past, devoted to the ideals and practice of justice, freedom and democracy.
"Let these faded flags of our country be retired and destroyed with respectful and honorable rites and their places be taken by bright new flags of the same size and kind ... "
The Sons marched back across the lot and draped the flags across a makeshift rack set up in the parking lot, for flags, even those being burned, should not touch the ground. After a prayer, the flags were doused with lighter fluid and set ablaze.
With no bugler in their ranks, they relied on a boombox to play the traditional "To The Colors" as the flags burned.
The members saluted, the crowd stood silently, and the wind-whipped fire sent pieces of charred cloth floating through the air.