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Source: Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX
Date: September 24, 2008
Byline: Lisa Magers

Retiring the flag

Students learn patriotic lesson in ceremony

Gerard Elementary fourth- and fifth-graders recently participated in a lesson in patriotism by witnessing a retirement ceremony for an American flag that had flown over their campus.

"This has been on my mind for some time," said Gerard Principal Jay Lewis, who conducted the ceremony with the help of student council officers. "During the month of September, two events relating to patriotism take place — the remembrance of the 9/11 attack on our nation and Constitution Week, which is currently being observed by all Texas public school districts. We thought having a flag retiring ceremony would be great activity relating to both these events."

"Educating and involving our older students in an official flag-retiring ceremony was a great exercise in patriotism and flag etiquette and very age-appropriate for fourth- and fifth-graders," Lewis said. "Many people are not even aware of the proper procedures in disposing of an American flag that is beyond repair."

Among those attending the retirement ceremony was Ronny McBroom, whose grandson was among the fourth-graders present.

"Being a disabled Vietnam veteran, this is the way you want to see things done," McBroom said. "I just wanted to be here for this."

The ceremony began with student council members cutting the American flag into sections, following U.S. Flag Code specifications, which state that "a flag ceases to be a flag when it is cut into pieces."

As the flag was cut into four sections, fifth-grade student council members Zach Smith, Maci Forsythe, Sadye Simpson, Stormy Vielman, Erin Smith, Maitlin Wade and Hannah King read passages from the flag ceremony text:

"The red stripes remind us of the lifeblood of brave men and women who were ready to die for this, their country.

"The white stripes remind us of purity and cleanliness of purpose, thought, word and deed.

"The blue — which is never cut apart as it represents the union of the 50 states, which should never be broken — is for truth and justice, like the eternal blue of the star-filled heavens."

The American creed states "it is my duty to love it, to respect its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag and to defend it against all enemies."

Once the flag was cut, students then placed their section into the fire prepared by Lewis, as their schoolmates looked on.

"It was very emotional," said Smith, who was the first student council member to begin the process of cutting the flag into sections. "I kind of wanted to cry."

Simpson agreed with her classmate's reaction to the ceremony.

"You feel privileged to be able to do this kind of thing," she said. "You do feel emotional. I think the kids were thinking 'wow' and about the people who gave their lives so we could be safe."

Student council sponsor Gina Wade said she was very proud of the response to the ceremony.

"You just don't realize what a solemn and emotional act this will be," Wade said. "Especially when it takes place as you are also focusing on the sacrifices made by those who gave up everything in the founding our nation and the lives lost on 9/11."

Constitution Week, which is observed Sept. 17-23, was established by the state legislature to encourage the study, particularly in grades 3-12, of America's national documents, such as the Bill of Rights. Teachers are encouraged to have students memorize or recite specific passages from such documents, including the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

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