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Point Higgins third-graders learn about flag etiquette
A group of Point Higgins Elementary School third-graders stands and salutes while Hunter Davis, center, and Donna Boss of the Joseph T. Craig American Legion Post 3 in Ketchikan prepare to raise the American flag on Tuesday afternoon at the school. The Legionnaires visited the school to talk with students about flag etiquette. Staff photo by Danelle Landis


Daily News Staff Writer

It was a day to celebrate the American flag on Tuesday afternoon this past week for a crowd of Point Higgins Elementary third graders.

American Legionnaires Hunter Davis, Donna Boss and Ken Leland of the Joseph T. Craig American Legion Post 3 in Ketchikan displayed flags of different sizes, ages and designs for the students to view; some flags tattered with long histories, some crisp and bright. The event is scheduled yearly, said teacher Jennifer Elliot.

Davis first engaged the group with a question.

“So, the American flag. What happened in 1776?”

“We had the Revolutionary War against the British,” one student volunteered, eliciting a chuckle of delight from Elliot.

“What does a flag do?” Davis asked next.

“It represents the people who fought in the war,” another student answered. Davis was impressed, telling the students they’d really been studying hard.

Davis then held up a very old flag.

“Who sewed the first flag?” he asked the group.

“It was an old lady,” one student answered.

Davis then told the students that the flag he held was a Betsy Ross flag, and led them through the meaning of the stars and the stripes and their relation to the number of colonies represented. He also told them that Flag Day is the same day as Ross’ birthday, as well as the birthday of the U.S. Army.

The next flag he held up elicited exclamations and chatter, because of its large size and the “76” numbers emblazoned on it.

“This is called the Bennington flag,” he said. “This was essentially a way to wave the flag at Britain and say, ‘We know what happened in 1776.’”

Davis then showed a modern flag and asked the students if they knew what to do if a flag gets dirty. The students were stumped.

“You put it in the washer,” he said.

When he showed them a flag with a tattered end, he asked if the flag still could be flown. The group answered “Yeah!” and Davis agreed. He said the flag also could be sewn and repaired. When a flag does finally need to be retired, however, he said that at the American Legion they burn the flag in a barrel with an official ceremony.

He then walked the students through some of the rules of flying an American flag, telling them that the flag can be flown at night, but it must be illuminated with lights.

“That’s a key point,” he said.

The next flag etiquette rule he shared was how a flag must be hung. He explained that the “union,” the blue field with white stars, must always be on the flag’s own right. Also, the U.S. flag should always be placed to the right of a porch, of a room, a parade line or to the right of another flag.

He also explained what a burial flag looks like — folded up in a framed triangular box. He told the students that those flags were to honor deceased military veterans or those who died in combat.

One student asked, “Isn’t the Fourth of July about the flag?”

“The Declaration of Independence was signed on July fourth,” Davis explained.

Next, was flag-folding practice. Davis, Boss and Leland demonstrated the proper technique, folding a flag twice lengthwise, then folding a series of triangles. Davis told the students that no red should be showing when they are done.

One student piped up, “I know how to do this. We did this in Cub Scouts.”

Davis told the students it should look like a “cocked hat,” when they’re finished folding.

Kids bounced and zigged into groups of about five students each, to practice folding the flags.

As they worked, Davis mentioned to them that another name for the flag is “colors.” He also outlined some of the traditions on military bases relating to flags, such as a bugle call “to the colors” when a flag is raised or lowered; the requirement to turn to the flag and salute when it is raised or lowered; or to “face the music” to salute if the military personnel cannot see the flag, but can only hear the bugle call.

Davis also taught them how to handle one’s hat during the Pledge of Allegiance. He emphasized the rule that the hand should go over the heart, not the hat. He also explained what the Bill of Rights means to the American people.

“Do you know why they created the American flag?” one student asked.

“It represents the American people, the government, and those who sacrificed their lives,” Davis answered. “So, the red is for the blood that was shed, the white is for the purity of their purposes and the blue represents the union — we are all true blue.”

The next activity was spurred by the very first question Davis asked at the event.

“Did anybody notice anything out front today?” he had asked.

The students fidgeted and pondered.

“The American flag?” one student ventured.

“Not today,” Davis answered. “It doesn’t look like it got put up this morning.”

The entire group flowed outside, following their teachers, Elliot and Geoff Glover, and the three Legionnaires.

Students stood quietly, hands over their hearts as the Davis and Boss raised the flag.

“And it goes up right smartly,” Davis announced. He then stepped back and saluted.