Sound Off: School needs a new flag

By Wes Heckathorn

I was at the Coupeville High School Jan. 11 to drop off a book for my daughter. As I was leaving, I looked up and noticed that the United States Flag flying over the school building was getting tattered and needed to be replaced.

The end of the flag was tearing along the seam where the stripes meet. I went back to the school office and asked to speak with the principal. I introduced myself to the principal and told him about the condition of the flag. I then asked him to replace it.

The principal was polite but his demeanor and reply appeared to be one of indifference. He told me that they have to replace the flag occasionally due to the windy weather, and that the cost of replacing them was high. I was in my Navy uniform at the time, so he suggested maybe the Navy could provide the school with flags to defray the cost of replacing them. I just smiled, thanked him and went on my way.

As I left the school, I continuously replayed the conversation over and over in my head. I wondered what the Stars and Stripes meant to the principal. Is its price measured in dollars, or is its value measured in other ways. Is its cost prohibitive to being replaced regularly, so that it may always fly with honor? Do we underfund our schools so much that they can’t replace their flag as necessary? If so, what has been done to try and fix the problem?

I believe that the cost of our flag can never be stated in any currency. It was developed as a symbol of a new nation, a nation struggling for freedom and equality. It represents no single political party, religion or organization, yet it is the symbol of freedom for all Americans. It represents who we were and are today. It says nothing, yet its sight speaks volumes. It moves us so much that people gave and continue to give their lives for it. It is timeless.

On Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines and a Navy Corpsman bravely fought their way to the top of Mount Suribachi, raising our Stars and Stripes above the summit for all to see. The image was so powerful that it gave hope to all Americans and strengthened our will to overcome those who had dealt mankind such a terrible blow. The image was so powerful that it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for photography.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Centers, our national ensign was the first color to be displayed over the black and white scene of devastation. The sight of our flag flying there once again told Americans that we shall overcome this tragedy, just as we had before.

I still remember a flag ceremony that we had at my grade school when I was six years old. We gathered in a circle outside the school. A fire was lit in a pit and members of the Boy Scouts of America ceremoniously burned tattered flags that had previously been flown over the school. Although it was only an elementary school, the solemnness of what was taking place was not lost on anyone. All were quiet, some cried, but respect was plentiful. Where has it gone now? Two weeks later, this tattered flag still flies 24 hours a day. When I checked a few days ago, it was not even lit as it flew in the night, but instead just hung there in the darkness, tattered and forgotten.

If the Coupeville High School can’t afford a new flag, then I will purchase one for them. If you can, I suggest that you do so too. There will be no excuses for displaying our flag disrespectfully. In addition, they should make note that the flag should be properly illuminated when flown at night.

Wes Heckathorn

lives in Coupeville.

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