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Patriotism is alive and well

“When I look at you, I think of my great-grandpa” are the words of one 10-year-old youngster.

Another said, “When I see it, I remember my dad.”

Just what are they talking about? These are the heartfelt expressions about Old Glory, our national flag. Four fourth-grade students recently shared short essays about the flag as part of the 28th Memorial Day Service at the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum. What better time to share the patriotism of our youth than during this season of three patriotic holidays: Memorial Day, Flag Day, and the Fourth of July.

Standing respectfully during the Pledge of Allegiance and while singing the National Anthem with hand over heart in a “civilian salute” is easy to do when it is made personal. This is exactly what students realized as they not only studied the history of the United States, but wrote essays of “What the Flag Means to Me.”

Each year a group of dedicated veterans from local legions visits area schools as part of the “Chautauqua County American Legion Flag Education Program.” After a presentation about the American Flag, fourth graders are challenged to write an essay of about 150 words. Out of the hundreds of essays received from schools across the county, 10 were singled out for awards.

In the spirit of patriotism and as a community service, four students volunteered to share their essays with an adult audience at the lighthouse and were part of a larger group of fourth-grade students from Fredonia Elementary School who sang the National Anthem. Their personal expressions follow to also inspire others during this season.

“‘Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming.’ Every morning when my class sings the National Anthem and says the Pledge of Allegiance, I think of all the family and friends that are fighting, or have fought and died in wars. For example, my grandpa, or as I like to call him ‘Bapa,’ fought in the Persian Gulf War. He has a collection of war artifacts and photos which I used to not understand, but now I realize they are a memory of how America got its freedom and are part of our constitutional rights. My family hangs a flag outside our front door on holidays, and when it got old and torn, Bapa took it down and burned it at a flag burning ceremony. My cousin went in the Army after he graduated from high school, and my mom’s friend is in Afghanistan right now. I am glad that all of these people, even just my mom, have sacrificed and made our country strong. That is what the flag means to me; with liberty and justice for all.” (EvaRose Wienke)

“When I see the flag, I REMEMBER. I think of my dad who worked on jet avionics in the Marines. I think of my uncle Mark who worked on artillery and my grandpa who was in the Air Force as an intelligence officer. When I look at the flag, I think of those who fought or died in wars. I also think of all my friends and how great they are to me. I think of peace, trust, and friendship. I think of honesty, and when I hear the National Anthem, I know we are free to be ourselves. I think of freedom and how important it is to me. ‘O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ I love you America! These are only a few meanings of what the flag means to me.” (Indigo Davis)

“What the flag means to me is a tough question to answer. Most of all, it stands for all the Americans that have died standing up and defending this great country. To me, the American Flag isn’t just a piece of cloth; it is a symbol of strength, honor, courage, loss, and freedom. Every time I see the flag or stand for the pledge and anthem, I think of all my family members who have served in the military. My dad enlisted in the Marine Corps and went to Iraq representing the American Flag. I was even born on a Marine Corps base. I am very proud of my dad for putting his life on the line like that for our country. I also had great grandpas who fought for this country. It takes a lot for a person to leave home and be willing to fight, but the flag also represents the many hard workers who have built this country both now and in the past. There is nowhere else I would rather live than the United States of America or be represented by any other flag. It makes me happy to be a part of this great country. On the other hand, it bothers me when people disgrace the flag because it disrespects the people who have worked so hard to make this country the greatest in the world.” (Caleb Gornikiewicz)

“To me, the red, white, and blue of the Star Spangled Banner are a symbol of freedom. Sadly, when I was six months old, my great grandpa perished. He was a veteran of World War II. He was wounded in a battle in Germany and his body was covered in shrapnel. He was taken to a hospital in Belgium where he had multiple surgeries. His family was lucky because of the men who were deployed to the Battle of the Bulge, my grandpa was one of the few who survived. Many lost their sons to keep freedom alive. Even though my grandpa is gone, looking into the flag is like looking into his face and all of the other people’s faces who made freedom ring. I think that people who disrespect the flag are disrespecting all of America. They should try to step in the soldier’s shoes to know what it feels like. We are lucky to be Americans and the flag helps me remember that. ‘You’re a grand old flag,’ yes you are. When I look at you, I think of my great grandpa and thank everyone who has served. This is what the flag truly means to me.” (Owen Gilbert)

Make it a good week and remember to mark your calendar for the Civil War Living History and Battle Reenactment to take place August 15-17 at the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum. It will be a weekend full of activities as well as the weekend of August 9 with The Haunted Chautauqua Festival by the Village Haunts and Beyond Ghosts. Call 366-5050 for more information or if interested in becoming a volunteer tour guide. It’s a great community service and you can meet people from all over the world.

Mary Burns Deas writes weekly for the OBSERVER. Send comments to lifestyles@observertoday.com