By Debbie Adams
Four days each week, teams of fifth graders at Herman L. Horn and W.E. Cundiff Elementary Schools in Vinton raise, lower, and fold the American flag and the flag of Virginia on their outdoor flagpoles.
In past years this was a daily occurrence, but this year with Roanoke County’s hybrid learning plan due to COVID-19 health guidelines, students in grades 3-12 attend in-person classes only two days each week.
That means currently there are two flag-raising teams at each of the Vinton elementary schools – one to accommodate the Monday/Thursday attenders and one for the Tuesday/Friday group.
Sgt. Michael Caldwell of the Vinton Police Department works with the flag teams and teaches them flag etiquette and history as part of his duties as the VPD Community Services Officer.
Traditionally the students with flag duty at WEC and HLH are fifth graders, chosen by the faculty at their schools.
On October 12 and 13, Caldwell, along with Chief Fabricio Drumond and several officers, visited the two schools to recognize the students with flag lapel pins and certificates. Those officers included Lt. Glenn Austin, Sgt. Scott Hurt, Cpl. Silas Chapman, and Officer Brandon Alterio, along with Mandie Baker, executive assistant to the chief.
The Monday/Thursday team at WEC is made up of Naleigh Lewis, Kayleigh Barber, Kaydy Wright, and Benjamin Hoyos. The Cundiff Tuesday/Friday team includes Olivia Marcus, Jesse Underwood, Michael Akers, and Juan Torres´ Carreon.
The Monday/Thursday team at Herman L. Horn includes Milton Clark and Jackson Lester. Their Tuesday/Friday team is made up of Javon Tingler and Caleb Wrye.
The flag teams participate in the raising and lowering of the flags each day. As it’s not an easy task to handle two large flags – unfolding, attaching, raising, lowering, unfastening, and folding – it works better as a group effort. There’s also inclement weather and wind to deal with.
In an official letter presented to each student, Chief Drumond said, “I would like to thank you for your hard work, dedication, and the love you have demonstrated for your country while serving in the flag detail for the 2020-2021 school year.
“Our flag has stood as a symbol of freedom for our beloved heritage for over 237 years. As Americans, we cherish those who have fought and died to preserve our democracy as our national emblem emboldens our national pride and fortifies the legacy for our future generations. Each detail of the American flag captures the unity of the American spirit, the courage of sacrifice as a nation which will always remain vigilant to defend the core values that are inscribed in our nation’s founding documents,” he continued.
“The American flag is a symbol of prosperity and a source of pride that captures American liberty,” Drumond said. “There is no greater global symbol that is instantly recognizable as a representative of freedom, values, and hard work.
“I am very proud that you have chosen the sacred duty of raising our flag briskly into the sky with the dignity and honor of a national symbol and lowered ceremoniously showing dignity and respect,” he said. “I hope that you will continue the customs display for our American flag and pass on the traditions to the future students of the grades below you. God bless you, and God bless America,” the chief said.
Sgt. Caldwell thanked the students at each school for being part of the flag detail. Officer Brandon Alterio, a veteran of the United States Air Force, also thanked the students for taking the time each day to be part of the program.
“The flag represents hope, unity and freedom,” Alterio said. “It is an honor to be in its presence and I take pride in it as a veteran. I hope you always feel pride in it as well.”
Cpl. Chapman, a veteran of the United States Army, talked about the pride he feels in both the Virginia state flag and the American flag.
He told the students that in volunteering to be members of the flag detail, “you are doing something great for yourselves and for your school, community, and nation.”
W.E. Cundiff student Michael Akers said he is “proud of the people who fought for our country, who fought in wars and risked their lives for our country.”
WEC student Olivia Marcus said it “feels amazing” to be part of the flag detail.
Juan Torres´Carreon and Jesse Underwood from Cundiff both said they are very happy to be part of the team – it is a “great honor.”
Javon Tingler from Herman L. Horn said that his great-great-grandfather fought in World War II and his Uncle Willie has served in the United States Air Force. “It’s an honor to raise the flags at school,” Tingler said.
Caleb Wrye from HLH said that being a member of the flag detail is “a way to honor those who have fallen in war.”
Sgt. Caldwell said administrators at each school have welcomed his work with the flag teams and facilitating the program in addition to his other duties at the schools. He stops by the schools most days; checks in with the office to see if anything is needed; walks through the hallways and stops and chats with students and staff.
Caldwell teaches flag detail students the technicalities of how to fold, unfold, attach, raise, and lower the flags; he has provided a great deal of information on flag etiquette:
- The flags go up briskly and are lowered slowly.
- The American flag always goes on top; no flag can be flown higher.
- When flags are flown at half-staff, the American flag is raised to full height and then lowered to half-staff.
- It is the custom to display the American flag only from sunrise to sunset, however, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
- When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground; it should be received by waiting hands and arms.
- To store the flag, it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.
- When a flag becomes damaged, tattered, and torn, it should be officially retired.
Caldwell also likes to teach some history while students are working with the flags:
- The colors of the flag have meaning. White stands for purity; red for bravery; blue for loyalty, vigilance, devotion, and justice.
- The stripes in the American flag stand for the thirteen original colonies; the 50 stars for the 50 states.
- When folding the United States flag there are 13 folds, one for each of the original colonies. When the flag is completely folded, no red is showing. The 13 red and white stripes represent the original colonies, but also the rays of the sun, so when the flag is folded in the evenings after being lowered, the light is being put away into darkness, leaving a field of blue with bright white stars.
- The nickname for the flag is “Old Glory.”
- The flag is folded in a triangular or tricuspid shape, like the tricuspid hats worn by George Washington and the other Patriots in the American Revolution.