By Debbie Adams
Each school day morning, six fifth graders on the flag team at W.E. Cundiff Elementary School raise the American flag on the 35-foot flagpole in front of the Vinton school. Each afternoon they take down the flag, fold it into a triangle, and store it until it is brought out the next morning (unless the weather is rainy) to be flown again.
The flag has become a very important part of student life at Cundiff. Each morning, the students (pre-K and up), faculty, and staff recite the Pledge of Allegiance and then the W.E. Cundiff pledge: “I pledge to be safe, respectful, responsible, ready to learn. We are Team Cundiff.”
Being a member of the flag team at Cundiff is an honor. The students’ fourth grade teachers nominate the students, who are then selected by the Cundiff faculty and administration. This year they are Graceyn Taylor, Vishva Patel, Keelan Webster, Reid Divers, Remington Duncan, and Caroline Sutphin. All of the students on the team agreed they were happy to take on the responsibility.
Music teacher Ellen Hannan, who sponsors and trains the flag team, says they are retiring the worn US flag which has flown for 10 years at Cundiff, and Woodmen Life (formerly Woodmen of the World Life Insurance) has donated a new 6’x10’ flag to take its place. The new flag is nylon and made by Annin Flagmakers of South Boston, Va.
Steve Bishop and K.J. Gill made the presentation of the new flag to the flag team on the morning of September 9. Bishop is the Woodmen marketing manager; Gill is the representative for Woodmen Life.
Woodmen Life is a not-for-profit, member-owned and community-based organization founded in 1890 and based in Omaha, Neb. It operates privately held insurance companies for its members. The local Woodmen Life Chapter president is Vinton’s own Ralph Chumley, owner of Citizen’s Upholstery.
The history of the organization includes numerous philanthropic efforts and community outreach projects; distinctive headstones depicting tree stumps across the United States and Canada before 1930, programs to present American flags, and programs to honor veterans, first responders, and defenders.
Donating flags has become a tradition of the fraternal outreach program at Woodmen Life—donating new flags to schools, non-profits, rescue squads, police and fire stations, and civic organizations. Bishop says Woodmen “purchase and present more flags than Uncle Sam.” The organization has presented over 3.5 million flags in communities nationwide.
The Woodmen sponsor the Flags Across America program which places flags on the graves of veterans, In Honor and Remembrance ceremonies which honor the heroes and victims of the 9/11 attacks, as well as local community heroes and volunteers. They recognize local citizens for their patriotism, conduct flag retirement ceremonies, and participate in parades and events for Memorial Day, Independence Day, and other patriotic occasions. They distribute American flags at local high school and community college sporting events.
The organization offers special benefits for first responders who perish in the line of duty. It partners with the Gary Sinise Foundation in providing U.S. flags and flagpoles.
The Woodmen view the flag as the patriotic symbol of America and its freedoms. Bishop says he likes to see a “nice, crisp flag” flying on flagpoles around the region. The Woodmen are doing their part to make those flags a reality.
Bishop is delighted to see students on the flag team at Cundiff who are “undertaking the responsibility for honor and patriotism. They are a fine group.”
As for the flag team at Cundiff, in addition to the responsibility of raising and lowering the flag each day, students learn American 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 24 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.
Students also have the opportunity to learn some history while serving on the flag team:
- 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 13 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.