For Ray Wadsworth, chairman of the Spirit of Princeton, the American Flag is a sacred thing.

And when a flag has outlasted its usefulness — when it's too tattered and torn to be flown — Ray's the guy you want to go see.

I was honored to have him on the air Monday to talk about how he'll spend his Tuesday — burning and properly retiring flags at the Sprit of Princeton's annual Flag Day ceremony.

Ray started collecting tattered and torn flags 20 years ago. At the time, he'd get together about 300 a year, he told me.

But last year, he had more than 1,200. It's so many, he can't dispose of them all during the annual ceremony. Instead, he's got to bring the extras to a fireman's academy to use its fire pit.

Not everyone's aware that burning is the proper, dignified end for a flag — we hear about flag-burning, and we think of protests. But Ray does it with the solemn respect the flag deserves.

The flags he collects, Ray said, were ones that just as easily "could have been taken to the dump — tractors and bulldozers running over them."

"I hate to see that," he said.

Anyone with an old flag can bring it Tuesday to Mercer Engine Company No. 3, 363 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Ray will burn the flags at noon on the plaza at Princeton Witherspoon Hall, 400 Witherspoon Street.

For those who can't attend, Ray recommends burning flags and burying their ashes.

"Most people never recognize Flag Day," I told him. "But we will."

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