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Local veteran honors flags in annual tradition

WEDOWEE – Throughout the last 12 years, local Navy veteran Robert “Robby” Phillips of Wedowee has made it a Memorial Day weekend tradition to host a flag retirement service. Whether it be one flag in the company of his wife and children or six flags and nearly 20 friends and family members, Phillips makes it a special event.

Joining the military was a tradition for the Phillips family, and Robby Phillips carried on the torch by joining in 1985. He served for four years on active duty as a Navy aviation rescue swimmer during which time he cruised all around the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.

As a rescue swimmer, Phillips explains he was a part of a fairly new but elite group of Navy personnel through which he carried out an exciting job he enjoyed and is proud of to this day. Learning from his experiences in the military, Phillips notes he considers good leadership first as, “someone who takes responsibility” in consideration that leadership has many additional factors. Phillips suggests that being able to see a need and taking initiative is a sign of good leadership.

Phillips himself is a prime example of this through his work with flag retirement.

When a flag is well worn and flying at a public place, Phillips takes the initiative to inquire about replacing the flag and is often the one to retire it. Understanding Phillips’ military history makes his tradition the more special. Phillips explains the process of his flag retirement tradition and mentions first that it is done with respect for those who are currently and will serve in the U.S. Military and with remembrance for those who have served.

The retirement process begins as Phillips folds the worn flag to transport it. “I lay it on a table and clean the flag as best I can,” Phillips says. Then he cuts out the blue square containing the 50 stars and lays them on top of the red stripes, thus making the material no longer a flag. During the service, Phillips reminds his attendees of what each color of the flag represents before unfolding the material and laying it in a clean, hot fire to burn.

Red represents hardiness and valor. White represents purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice. The 50 stars represent the 50 U.S. states, and the 13 red and white stripes represent the original 13 colonies.

Phillips also explains several other significant facts about the American flag through his retirement tradition, but he instills one main idea and that is respect. He states, “The main thing is respect. Respect for the flag and respect for the people who serve for the flag.” Phillips reminds his audience of why respect is so important saying, “Somebody is serving right now.” Phillips holds flag retirement services on Memorial Day weekends as well as on 4th of July, Veterans Day and Labor Day as they fall on the weekend dates.

Phillips (standing) is surrounded with family and friends and he retires six flags this past Memorial Day.

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