For many children, Veterans Day means little more than a day off from school.
Students at Chester Elementary School in Spokane Valley know better. They got a lesson in patriotism Wednesday at the school’s “Proud of our Veterans” program.
Last year, students in kindergarten through fifth grade put together care packages for troops serving overseas. In return, the soldiers sent them an American flag that had flown over an air base in Iraq.
The school has a Veterans Day program every year, but this year was extra special: They got to run that flag up the school’s flagpole for the first time.
“They … have a sense of pride that they have done something positive,” said Mina Ross, secretary-treasurer of Ladies Auxiliary Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1435. “I think patriotism is something that is sort of going unnoticed these days. We need to start with (teaching) our youth.”
Before raising the flag, members of Cub Scout Pack 420 demonstrated the proper way to fold a flag – 13 times and into a triangle – while Ross explained what each fold means.
The “oohs” and “ahs” of wide-eyed children filled the gymnasium as the Scouts unfurled the large flag they used to demonstrate the process.
Many parents in the audience fought back tears as students sang “God Bless America,” “Proud of Our Veterans” and “Armed Forces Medley.” The audience was engrossed as a bugler played taps and the Fairchild Air Force Base Honor Guard retired the colors.
Then the students flocked to the flagpole outside to take down the old flag and raise the new one.
The old flag got stuck halfway down the pole as it was being lowered. Everyone watched intently as they struggled to get the flag untangled. As soon as it was freed, the crowd burst out in cheers.
The new flag went up without a hitch.
Every month students at Chester learn about a character trait and work on developing it. This month’s trait is citizenship, which is emphasized both in putting the care packages together and the flag ceremony, said Principal Cindy Sothen.
“It ties into … citizenship, patriotism, caring for others,” she said. “It helps them think of sacrifices others have made for them.”
The 19 packages sent last year held cards, letters and snacks.
“Those care packages really mean a lot to us over there,” said Lt. Col. Andy Sellberg, who is stationed at Fairchild and who has two children at Chester. “It’s not so much what’s in the care packages. What means the most is knowing that people back home are thinking about us.”The care packages were such a success that the students are doing it again this year. They managed to fill 26 boxes with more than 2,000 items in just a week and a half.
“To know that they have support … builds that morale that we’re thinking of them,” Sothen said. “We want them to return safely and we appreciate them supporting us.”