[Editor’s note: Post 3 received its initial charter in July 1919, making it a true centennial post. The below article describes how the post is celebrating the Legion’s 100th anniversary – and its own – by continuing a priority of the Legion’s almost from its beginning: sharing flag etiquette with the American public.]
American Legion Post 3 of Kingsport, Tenn., has started its 2018 pre-Centennial Celebration with the “God and Country” Americanism/Youth program, by presenting flag classes to the Sullivan County 5th grades.
The idea of these classes originated last fall, during the time of all the national attention being given to the national anthem and American flag displays. As a new Legionnaire and veteran, I was torn personally with the disrespect and the public demonstrations of our beloved flag and anthem. I thought of my fallen Air Force comrades – some personal friends I flew with – who sacrificed and gave their lives for these two icons of our great country.
As I was taking the American Legion Basic Training course, and also going online researching about the American flag, I came across the video and booklets available for outreach programs. During one of our meetings, I suggested that Post 3 start going into schools and giving flag classes; our commander, Gary Stidham, immediately said great idea, run with it! I talked with my wife and she agreed to help me, as I am hearing-impaired and need her help in public conversations. I used the Legion resources, came up with lesson plans, had Denise check it, presented it to the post, and we were off to the races! I am assistant chaplain for the post, and Denise is a retired elementary school teacher.
After getting approval from the Sullivan School Board of Education, we started giving the classes to the county’s 5th grades. This will be an ongoing endeavor, as we will continue into the Kingsport City Schools next year.
We went to the Blountville Middle School 5th grades and presented the “For Which It Stands” flag class to the classes of Amy Nichols, Alexandra Miller and Jada Sherfey. The classes were combined, and there were 56 students who participated. In addition to the video presentation, we had all the students practice folding the American flag. We had six 3x5 flags and had 12 students at a time learning the proper way to fold the flag. In conclusion, we left the students with the handouts “I Pledge Allegiance” and “Our Country’s Flag.” As a special gift, each student received an official American Legion left shoulder patch of the American flag. Nichols thanked Post 3 and requested a copy of the DVD program and teacher’s guide, to be incorporated into their curriculum in the future.
The kids we have had the privilege to speak to have been an encouragement and blessing to me. I have had to remind them that because of the attention being given through the sports news, that we are not there to tell them what they should do, but rather show them what sacrifices have been made, the history of the American flag, and its proper respect and handling, so that they have the privilege in freedom to make a personal decision on how they choose to show respect to it. Someone, whether their parents, teachers, or relatives, have taught them some of this. So no matter what the press and critics say, I know there is a grassroots group of kids in northeast Tennessee who honor and respect the American flag.
During my flying career with the 89th MAW, Presidential Air Wing, our aircraft were painted white and blue and had an American flag on the tail, and the words “United States of America” down the side of the fuselage. Wherever we went, the aircraft was considered American soil. On one trip to Nicaragua, during their first elections, we took former President Jimmy Carter and congressional and senatorial observers to watch over the event. When we came back to pick them up, every one of them said they were so glad to see the American flag, the United States of America, and be back on American soil! The American flag has a personal message and meaning for everyone!
Finally, the flag flies mighty in the wind and storms; at restaurants, schools, churches, government buildings, auto dealerships …. It flies at military installations, and is lowered to half staff when a servicemember has died; it flies at half staff at our national cemeteries in honor of the servicemembers who are being buried on that day; small flags are put at each gravesite in respect and honor to those who sacrificed their lives for our great country during the Memorial Day observance here in America and in overseas burial sites; it is draped over a casket in the battlefield, flown home, and remains draped over the casket until the final respects are administered and it arrives at its final resting place. It is draped over caskets in funeral homes of loved ones who have served their country with honor and dignity. In all circumstances, whether a military honor guard or a local post honor guard, the flag is removed, folded with great care, dignity, respect, honor and humility, and presented to the surviving loved one. This alone is what drives me to strive and make a difference in laying down a firm foundation of the history of our flag, the respect it deserves, and the sacrifices that are made to ensure we can teach our children and youth Americanism through other American Legion programs.
Just as the video depicts the firemen, the Olympic athlete, the military members, the American flag still stands tall, no matter what the press of critics says. It has and will stand the test of time and to the resolve of what our forefathers strived so hard to achieve: one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all! God, Country, Americanism! Happy 100th birthday, American Legion!
Phil Jones, TSgt, USAF, Retired