I have always been fascinated by the American Legion. You see unique outposts wherever you go, all across the country. Some are friendly to strangers and some ask you to leave, but if you stay, they warm up quickly.
A few years ago, my wife and I stopped for a beer at the local American Legion, which we had driven by hundreds of times before.
We nervously rang the doorbell and the door opened. All eyes turn and the busy Saturday afternoon bar fell quiet as we walked in and looked for a couple of seats at the bar. Within a few minutes we were dealing with (mostly) friendly questions from various people in the crowd.
They invited us back for Thursday night bingo and we went. And we just kept going back. We aren’t the typical American Legion supporters (gay women with no military affiliation), but we have found a home at our local American Legion.
Eventually they started asking me to photograph their annual events; the Christmas party with local children, the annual flag burning ceremony each June, etc.
These photographs are from the last three years at the annual flag burning ceremony. Each year retired flags are collected and honored before individually being thrown onto a bonfire with a sharp salute. Local boy scouts, firemen, veterans and everyday people like us participate in the ceremony, and as it is June in Miami, the heat is unbearable. The huge bonfire doesn’t help. I’ve singed more than a few hairs if I wander too close with my camera.
The flag ceremony is simple, and surprisingly emotional; people respond to their own relationship and understanding of the American flag which is glaringly different. Tears are frequent, as are smiles and hugs. Remembering what the flag stands for and the sacrifices made in honor of it, each person takes a flag and throws it in the fire.
As the fire grows, the crowd gets smaller, mostly due to the June heat. They move back into the bar for a few more cold beers, while the remaining flags are surrendered to the fire by the few that linger behind to finish the job.