Schools across Knox County were celebrating Veterans Day Monday morning, but for a group of South-Doyle High School students an effort to honor the American flag will last for the entire school year.
South-Doyle’s JROTC program is working to collect 1,000 American flags for a retirement ceremony that is scheduled for next May. Besides providing a respectful farewell to the flags, another goal of the project is to raise awareness of flag etiquette throughout the community.
Kaitlyn Scalf, a South-Doyle senior and commander of the school’s Cherokee Battalion, said that when a ripped or faded flag has come to the end of its life span, etiquette calls for the banner to be properly folded and then burned.
“It’s a symbolic thing for people who are in the military,” said Scalf. “You don’t just want to throw it away, it’s kind of like being disrespectful to the people who were in the military.”
The cadets had previously assisted American Legion Post 2 with a retirement ceremony for more than 500 flags.
LTC Bill Woodcock, Senior Army Instructor at South-Doyle, said that when a representative of the legion heard that the school was considering its own retirement ceremony, “He went back and told all the veterans groups, and we started having flags coming in the door the week after.”
The total number of flags collected has not been made public, and Woodcock and one other cadet are the only people who know the up-to-date tally. But the overall project is being organized by several committees within the JROTC.
11th-grader Avery Burnham is facilitator of the leadership committee and said cadets are still looking for an appropriate location for the retirement ceremony. The goal is to find a site that can be open to the public and raise awareness about the process, while also ensuring that the smoke doesn’t cause a disturbance.
The project is student-led, and should serve as good preparation for members of the Cherokee Battalion who are planning a military career.
Scalf is in the Army’s Delayed Entry program and is scheduled to leave for basic training two weeks after graduation, while Burnham is hoping to attend the Naval Academy and be commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps.
They’re not the only ones who are planning to serve their country. Senior Taylor Lawhorn recently enlisted in the Marine Corps and is scheduled to leave for boot camp in July. And 12th-grader Justin Shipes was two weeks late for his senior year because he did basic training at Fort Jackson this summer.
For South-Doyle cadets, their own service and the service of loved ones makes the flag project personal.
“A lot of us have military family or a bunch of us are in the military or we’ve had friends that have gone into the military,” said Burnham. “So the flag not only represents the country but also it represents those people that are going into the military. And they’re sacrificing a lot of their life, they’re sacrificing time and commitment in order to protect their country … So whenever we retire these flags it’s almost like we’re retiring a symbol of our families.”
Josh Flory is a multi-media specialist with Knox County Schools and writes this blog, Hall Pass, for the KCS website.