Viewpoint: Soiled American flags are an insult to those who fought and died for our freedom

Posted at 11:53 PM on Jun 28, 2018

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BY SCOTT ELLISON EBRIGHT

I pulled into the Crossroads Shopping Center parking near the Verizon store and Big Lots on Monday about 5:45 p.m. just after the big rainstorm and winds blew through the Statesville area.

A fireworks vendor had set up a tent near that area of the parking lot. Nearby I found several large, 3-foot-by-5-foot American flags strewn across the parking lot, lying soaking wet in mud puddles. It looked like a battlefield scene, minus the bodies and munitions.

No humans were anywhere near this fireworks tent and all four sides were tied shut. I picked up four flags out of the rainwater and dirt and put them inside of my truck. They were dripping wet and dirty.

I tried the next day, without success, to find out who is responsible for this fireworks tent. I tried calling local government offices to learn what persons or group had bought the permit to sell fireworks at this location, but was unsuccessful.

The person responsible for this fireworks tent is obviously devoid of any respect of our national flag, and is also unaware about what our flag represents. At the very least, this individual has violated various articles of the American Flag code.

I have a vivid memory as a third-grade student of one morning in the fall of 1959 at my school. Back then, the flag raising at my school was a daily event. The school bell would ring when classes began at 8:30 a.m., and the school janitor and a specially selected student helper would raise the American flag on the flagpole outside the front of our school. During this flag raising, students in every single classroom recited the Pledge of Allegiance, with our right hands over our hearts and staring at the small flag hanging in the corner of our classroom. Then we recited the Lord’s Prayer.

One day something terrible happened! About 15 minutes after the teacher began our lessons, the school principal came into our classroom and instructed our teacher to march all of the students outside the front of the school. All the other classrooms were doing the same. As we were lined up in block formations representing each class, we saw several American Legion members standing at attention and facing the flagpole. They never looked right or left or anywhere except straight ahead at the flagpole. They were accompanied by a color guard representing the branches of the military. (One of the color guard members was my friend’s dad). It was then that the principal announced to everyone that the flag had accidentally been soiled. In the process of raising the flag that morning, part of the flag slipped from the grasp of the student and janitor and it dragged in the dirt by the wind.

A commanding officer from the local Naval Reserve post spoke briefly about the thousands upon thousands of soldiers who had died on battlefields and shed their blood for this flag. He said the color red in our flag represents the blood soaked into the ground of our fallen soldiers and patriots who fought for our freedoms over the past 150 years. In a very solemn ceremony, the soiled flag was folded back up and handed to the American Legion members. They conducted a very precise ceremony with lots of official military orders given back and forth, according to official military protocol I suspect. We were told the flag would be burned that night by a special group of soldiers who would preside over the burning ceremony.

This emergency ceremony ended with our principal being handed a new American flag, which was raised immediately with all of the soldiers saluting and staring up at the flag. We all repeated the Pledge of Allegiance while looking straight up at this new flag blowing in the wind.

After the ceremony we returned to our classrooms. But the day was not over yet. Just before our school bell rang to signal the end of the school day, we heard the sound of a lone bugle playing out in front of our school. An old American Legion soldier was playing taps while the janitor and his assistant lowered the flag. I’ll never forgot the choked up feeling that gripped my throat and the tears that flowed from my eyes from the reverence of that moment. The usual noise and laughter of kids exiting school that day was unusually subdued and nearly quiet.

I wish that today’s generations of students and all Americans were taught respect for the American flag like those of us born just six years after the end of World War II. I strongly feel that the meaning of our flag needs to be taught to the vendors of the fireworks tents in Statesville -- as well as the millennial generation.

Scott Ellison Ebright lives in Statesville.

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