THE ADVOCATE ASKS: Scout discusses the flag retirement/multiuse firepit he made for his Eagle Scout public service project
Editor’s Note: For this week, we sat down with Michael Daniel Iacone at a Route 1 coffee shop to talk about the flag retirement firepit that he built for his Eagle Scout public service project at the Breakheart Reservation. Iacone, 18, of Melrose, is a former Saugus resident and a recent graduate of Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School in Wakefield, where he graduated with high honors in drafting and design. He plans to attend Wentworth Institute of Technology this fall to pursue a five-year program in Electromechanical Engineering. He has an interest in aerospace as a career path.
He initially set out to build the pit at the request of the Saugus Veterans Council. His original mission was to provide a place to properly retire American flags from the flag collection box at the Saugus Town Hall. But the project has evolved into a multiuse fireplace that has expanded to the surrounding communities. His intention was to honor all veterans, including his grandfather – the late Samuel Iacone, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the European Theater in World War II after being drafted at the age of 18. He was wounded in battle and captured by the German Army and held as a POW. He was later awarded the Purple Heart.
Michael is the son of Christina and Daniel Iacone of Melrose. He joined the Boy Scouts at the age of 11, and he has gone on to hold several leadership positions for Scout Troop 635, including Troop Librarian, Troop Guide and Patrol Leader. Michael was inducted into the Order of the Arrow as an Ordeal Member in 2016. During the summer of 2017, along with several of his fellow troop members, he completed a rigorous 13-day, 110-mile hiking expedition through the wilderness of Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. He considered it the highlight of his Scouting experience. Michael is also a member of Boy Scout Venturing Crew #357 at the Massachusetts Rifle Association.
Highlights of this week’s interview follow.
Q: Mike, please tell me a little bit about how this project evolved. How did you get started on this project?
A: Well, I had to come up with an idea and I wanted to make it about the veterans, because my grandfather died the year before, and he was a mason. So I started there, and I decided to build a fireplace out of brick, so I approached the Saugus Veterans Council to see if they wanted something similar to the one we have in Melrose.
Q: So, you had mentioned something earlier – that the mayor of Melrose had suggested this as a possible project?
A: Yes. Our troop put out a questionnaire to see if there were any potential Eagle Scout public service projects in Melrose, but it’s a small town and it’s pretty packed and there’s not a lot of stuff. So the mayor asked in the surrounding communities near Melrose. The Saugus Veterans Council responded and said they wanted something very similar to the flag-burning firepit they have in Melrose. There’s an abundance of flags that build up at Saugus Town Hall every year, and the Veterans Council ends up paying Wheelabrator to do a ceremony every year so they are properly retired.
Q: So, I guess a lot of people will just throw them out in the trash.
A: Yes. And it’s disrespectful to just throw them out.
Q: You also mentioned that this was somewhat of a tribute to your grandfather?
Q: He was in the military?
A: He was in the military. He was a POW in Bonn, Germany, during World War II. I grew up hearing stories about his time in the POW camp, so he was a pretty big part of my life.
Q: He was in the U.S. Army?
Q: Was he from the area?
A: He was from Syracuse, N.Y. That’s where most of my family on my dad’s side resides.
Q: So, this personal motivation was in addition to following up on an idea from the mayor; this was a personal tribute to a family member?
A: Yes. I felt that if I was going to work on something, I might as well be interested and have a purpose for it.
Q: So, he was a mason bricklayer.
A: Yes. He was a stonemason by profession.
Q: And he passed away how long ago?
A: I believe a year and six months ago.
Q: What was his name?
A: Samuel Iacone. He was a role model for me.
Q: How long did it take to do the project and how many other scouts were involved?
A: There were about 10 scouts involved and it took about two days. On Friday we went out and dug the hole and put the crushed stone down. Second day, we brought in wheel barrels of inch-and-a-half crushed stone, and we topped that off with very fine quarter-inch crushed stone. With every Eagle Scout project, there are a couple of hiccups that come with it. We actually got a bad shipment of crushed stone, so we had to compensate. We used an inch and a half to do the majority of it and we tapped it down. And then we moved on to quarter inch.
Q: Personally, what did you get out of this project?
A: The satisfaction of a job well done. And doing something for the veterans. You could tell they like the idea. A lot of them see the flag and it’s very personal to them.
Q: What did you learn about the American flag while doing this project?
A: There’s no set way to retire it and how it should be done. There are a couple of Army manuals out there, telling you that you break down the stars and stripes – you are supposed to cut all 13 of the stripes out, cut out the stars and the single rectangle. And you are supposed to cut them out separately, because once you break them apart, they are no longer representing the country. They’re just fabric.
Q: And do you think there are a lot of flags out there that aren’t properly retired?
A: Oh, most definitely. I’ve seen problems in a lot of places where you can see them in the trash – in a dumpster. It’s sad to look at.
Q: What’s the most interesting thing you learned about the flag in the course of this project?
A: About the different variations of it. There’s the 48-star flag, which is the one that my grandfather grew up with, because Alaska and Hawaii were not states at the time. Before that, there was a 42-star flag. And there were a bunch of other little variations. Of course, there is the classic 13 in the circle. And there are a bunch of others that you never think about – just wondering about the different flags they carried into battle throughout history. I looked at the ones they carried in the Civil War and it was really weird, because depending on the regiment, they had a certain number of stars, because some people didn’t accept certain states.
Q: Please tell me a little more about the project. From start to finish, how many hours did you put into it? How many hours overall?
A: I put in a total of 38 hours. Overall, 29 people worked on it, and they added up to 133 total hours worked.
Q: So, how much did the project cost? And did the fundraiser hit its mark?
A: The fundraiser hit well above its mark. In fact, we have an excess in funds right now. We’re probably going to be putting in the handicapped ramp at some point around the firepit.
Q: Okay, so there’s more to the project. How much did you raise, and how much did the project cost?
A: It was like around $1,400, and we raised somewhere in the neighborhood of about $2,000.
Q: What’s the life expectancy of the pit?
A: I’d say it will last at least a hundred years, the way it was built. You could probably take a sledge hammer to it at this point, and probably only chip away at it. It would not fall apart at this point.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share about the flag-burning pit?
A: There was a need that needed to be filled, and that’s simply what I did.
Q: I guess you are a pretty patriotic person.
A: Yes. In fact for a while, I thought about joining the military. Now I want to work for a military contractor.
Q: As far as Eagle Scout projects go, this is a pretty interesting one and fairly unique. Mine was nothing to write home about. Fifty years ago, when I was working on my Eagle Scout project, I took a crew of fellow scouts – probably about a dozen – and spent three nights cleaning up the Swansea Police Station in my hometown. It was at a time when there were budget cuts and the work just didn’t get done.
A: I think all Eagle Scout projects are worthwhile because they fill a purpose. They are all designed to fill a civic need that is there.
Q: But your project is something that for years to come – anytime you go to Breakheart Reservation – you’ll always get to see it. One day if you have a family, you can bring your kids over and tell them, “See, look what I did for my Eagle Scout project.”
Q: What does earning the rank of Eagle Scout mean to you?
A: If I’m being honest, I never considered myself a leader. It’s more like I get the role and do well with it. … I think it’s really just living your life as a good person and being honest.
Q: Well, it’s a hell of an accomplishment. It’s something that 50 years from now, you’ll really appreciate. It’s something you accomplished that nobody can ever take away. If you think about it – and they’ve got different statistics – about two to five percent of all Boy Scouts earn the Eagle badge.
A: Yes, that’s a very small amount.
Q: Well, it’s quite an accomplishment. Are you the first one in your family to earn the Eagle badge?
A: I have an older cousin who got it. He lives in Syracuse.
Q: Is there a lot of peer pressure these days …
A: To get out of Boy Scouts?
A: It’s not so much that people will tell you to leave. It’s more that you’ll tell yourself to leave because you think it’s uncool, but I’m not afraid of that.
Q: If you wore your uniform to school during Boy Scout Week, would you get hassled?
A: Probably. You would be viewed as a dork, maybe, but I just enjoy my time at school and don’t really care what people think. It’s not helpful to what you want – to find your own happiness.
Q: I guess being in a vocational school setting might be a little different than in the traditional high school.
A: The kids are more diverse; they’re more working class and much more accepting. I’m really glad I went there because I believe it’s the best decision I ever made.
Q: What’s your message to the kids out there who are in scouts – to follow through in getting the Eagle badge?
A: I can’t force you to stick with it. You are going to have to want it. That’s really what it boils down to. It’s a lot of work. I’m not going to lie about that, but it’s also a great sense of accomplishment once it’s done, and it’s something you can live with the rest of your life. Even once you have your Eagle, it’s not over. You still have to help out your troop. You still have to be involved. In fact, just yesterday, I was over helping one of my friends in the troop do his Eagle Scout project. It never stops. It’s something you live with your entire life and you work with. It’s a great time at the same time.
Q: What about all of the skills you acquire?
A: You do acquire a lot of skills without realizing it: first aid, public speaking, being comfortable in your own skin, swimming. Until I went to summer camp, I never realized there is a large percentage of people who don’t know how to swim, and that can be dangerous going forward in life. Even basic skills like that are great skills to learn.