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Eagle Scout pays it forward to local fire stations with project
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Travis Ippolito is joined by Chief Chris Jelinek, Captain Jason Bernard and other Turlock Fire members in a ceremony honoring him for his work creating flag retirement drop boxes (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Travis Ippolito, 17 of Turlock, is giving community members a chance to properly dispose of their used and worn-out American flags. Ippolito is an Eagle Scout for the Turlock Boy Scouts of America Troop 451 and has salvaged nine USPS drop boxes, converting them into American Legion flag retirement boxes. The boxes will be installed in front of all fire houses in Turlock and in front of several fire houses in surrounding cities.

According to American Legion Post 872 Commander Roy Simmons of Hughson, flag retirements are a decades-long tradition by the Boy Scouts of America and the American Legion, with the two organizations working alongside one another in collecting old American flags and properly disposing of them.

“When a flag is torn, faded with the sun or is just not very appealing anymore, there is a certain way to retire it,” Simmons said. “It’s a very private ceremony that boy scouts across the country do.”

The traditional method of retirement is to incinerate the flags, folding them in a specific way and burning them one at a time. The scouts or legion members hold a vigil over the fire until all traces of the flag are burned, with the ashes then being buried. The burial is completed with a moment of silence.

“Not many people know of this tradition, so the drop boxes will help people learn of it while giving them convenient places to drop them off for us to pick up,” Simmons said.

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Ippolito's flag drop boxes were sanded, painted and coated entirely by hand (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Simmons explained that most fire houses have boxes available to community members, but none are as beautiful as the ones Ippolito has made as part of his Eagle Scout project.

The nine boxes are painted fully red with a shiny coating with hand painted lettering and art on each side. They were dropped during a ceremony to congratulate Ippolito in front of Station 31 on East Marshall Street on Monday.

“I would say the project took about two years in total to get it done,” Ippolito said.

Ippolito’s father, Joe Ippolito, was in attendance and explained that acquiring the former mailboxes was an intricate process in itself.

“It took us quite a while to secure the mailboxes because of the fact that they were federally owned property,” he said. “Once we finally got them, most of them were pretty beat, so it took some time to get them looking like they do today.”

Once acquired, Ippolito and several volunteers worked together to repair the boxes and decorate them.

“It took a lot of work,” Ippolito said. “We were originally just going to do one, but then we thought, ‘Why don’t we just hit all of the stations?’ So we did, nine in all. Three for the Turlock stations and the rest, we’re giving them to the Legion to place at others. We sandblasted them, had all the paint removed, we repainted them and then had them detailed. It was really hard.”

Turlock Fire Chief Chris Jelinek presented Ippolito with a certificate and spoke about the appreciation he has for scouts like him giving back to their communities.

“It’s truly an honor to see the outstanding work that [Travis] did with the Eagle Scout project for the City of Turlock and the Turlock Fire Department and the work [he’s] done to honor the flag and everything it represents,” Jelinek said. “Though I personally wasn’t an Eagle Scout, I recognize the tremendous amount of dedication, hard work and perseverance it takes to accomplish that. It fills me with pride to see [Travis] as a representation of our community.”

Ippolito graduated from Pitman High this past summer, and with his remaining time with the scouts limited, he plans on continuing to give his time and service to others. On Sept. 5, he will join the United States Marine Corps.

“I’m also proud of the fact that he will continue to represent our country as well when he joins the armed forces,” Jelinek said. “[He’s an outstanding young man.”