Good Friday morning ...
My sixth-grade year was special for me.
My teacher at Churchland Elementary was Miss Lully Duke (as opposed to her sister, Miss Emily Duke, who, as I recall, taught eighth grade).
There were two sixth grade classes, as there were for every grade at Churchland. Many of the kids in my class I had known throughout my grade school years having traveled grades one through five, either in the same class or right next door. Since our classes studied the same subjects, had the same lunch break and recess times, went on the same field trips together and worked on many of the same projects, we spent lots of time together.
There was Merrimac Blanchard and her cousin, Martha Blanchard, whose fathers owned Blanchard Hardware Store and were from the "other side of the tracks" from where I lived. I was always quite fond of Merrimac, but in those days did little to attract attention and felt little need to impress anyone, at least not any girls. Then there was John Raymond, Lowell Harris and Calvin Schiemann who lived on my "side of the tracks," so to speak. John's father had a small horse farm; Lowell's dad was a marine at the Marford Ammunition Depot at Crainy Island, and Calvin's dad was, like mine, a civilian worker at the Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth.
And then there was Joe McCotter. Joe and I would probably not have been buddies if not thrown together to perform a specific daily task. He was a bit overweight, kind of nerdy before that was even a word, more of a bookworm than I, and certainly not very agile. If anything, he was slow, clumsy and not much interested in the out-of-doors.
But upon Joe and I was bestowed an honor that would mold a friendship and secure a special place in the company of our sixth-grade class and, indeed, the entire Churchland Elementary School. We were asked to take the responsibility of raising and lowering the American flag every day before and after school.
Upon that request, made by the principal and Miss Duke, I was required to give up my position as a safety patrol officer, a position I had already held since third grade. This was necessary because the flag was to be raised first thing in the morning BEFORE the commencement of classes and was to be lowered each afternoon just BEFORE dismissal.
Before undertaking this assignment, we were coached and carefully instructed about the proper care for and respect for the American flag. This was done by Mr. Robertson, a former Marine and eighth grade teacher at Churchland. He was very meticulous in his instructions, overseeing our morning and afternoon procedures for an entire week until he was sure we had the method down pat. Ours was an important task and we took it seriously.
So, every morning upon arrival and depositing my books on my assigned desk on the second floor, I scurried to the principal's office and along with Joe retrieved the American flag that was kept in a special cubby behind the counter in the school office. No permission was needed to enter the sanctuary of the school staff to retrieve the flag. Ours was a respected and honored task requiring no passes, no approval, no authorization. The task was ours and we took it seriously.
From the school office we took the tri-folded flag and walked to the front of the three-story building facing highway US 17 and proceeded to the flag pole across the front drive. There, while one of us held the flag in both hands, the other unfastened the halyard and lowered the clips from the top of the flag pole to the ground, then fastened the flag onto the two clips. While one of us almost reverently unfolded the flag, the other slowly raised the halyard and we both watched the flag rise to the top of the pole. After securing the halyard, we would stand side-by-side looking up in acknowledgment of our work and to see that the flag was in place and would then proceed to our classroom for the beginning of the school day.
Each day our classes began with announcements made by the principal over the loud speaker system piped to each classroom. Those announcements were followed by a Bible reading made by a student in the principal’s office and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance led by that same student. Each class would stand in their individual classrooms to face their classroom American flag. The class day could now begin.
Before the close of the day, even before the final announcements were piped over the PA system from the school office, Joe and I would once again make our way to the flag pole at the front of the school to lower the American flag for the evening. It was our task to reverently fold the flag properly in the standard tri-fold fashion, not allowing the flag to touch the ground or to come anywhere near it. This often took quite a while to get the flag folded correctly. We were always told that our buses would not leave without us, that our task was important and need not be rushed.
Then there were those days when a storm or rain shower would descend on Churchland Elementary. On those occasions, Joe and I were cleared to immediately leave our classroom and race to lower the flag before it got wet from the rain. It did not matter what time of day or in which activity we were involved … science, math, history, English, lunch or recess … we were directed to hurry to the flagpole and lower the flag. On those occasions, we undoubtedly got wet, sometimes soaked. But it did not matter. We were proud of what we did and did not let the soaking bother us. Ours was an important task and we took it seriously.
From my second-floor classroom on the front of the school, I was able to look out the bank of windows at any time of the day and see the flag flying at full staff. It was 1957, just twelve years after the end of Word War II. The country was in a very patriotic mood and especially so in the Tidewater area of Virginia where the military held such a huge presence. I was proud to have been chosen to hoist that flag every day as a reminder to all the freedoms won and fought for during the War.
At the end of the school year, at the final school assembly, Joe McCotter and I were recognized for our patriotic duty and were presented with a certificate of appreciation from the principal. I wasn’t particularly interested in going forward to receive the certificate, not so much from embarrassment, but because on that same day the school was hosting a guest who talked about and displayed (as in let you handle) a variety of snakes. As one not fond of snakes, even within the confines of a cage or on the arms of a handler, I was reticent to mount the steps to the stage. But I did, and I received my certificate which went to the bottom of my dresser drawer where all my valuables went in those days and probably stayed there until I left home for prep school four years later.
I am sure I learned a lot from Miss Lully Duke during that sixth grade, but the one thing I remember most was my daily responsibility to hoist the American flag to its highest position on the flag pole in the morning and to lower it at the end of the day. It was an important task and we took it seriously. My respect for that flag remains to this day, sixty-one years later.
I thank God for the United States of America …
Have a great weekend in the Lord …