Veteran appalled by tattered flag at Va. high school football game
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Stafford County resident Mike Curry drove to Chancellor High School on Aug. 24, looking forward to an evening of high school football featuring one of his grandsons on the visiting Riverbend team.
But before the kickoff, he was aghast at what he saw in the bleachers beyond the end zone of the Spotsylvania County school. There stood a group of Chancellor students known as "The Charger Chaos," decked out in the school colors of burgundy and black and with body paint on their faces and chests.
Their creative expression of school spirit didn't offend him. It was one student's display of a tattered American flag on a wooden pole that rested casually on his shoulder that shocked Curry to his patriotic core.
The Navy veteran said he was so upset he didn't dare address the matter himself lest he do something he'd regret.
Instead, his wife approached a school employee and pointed out the desecrated flag. That person acknowledged the problem and the flag was seized, Curry said.
But his shock didn't end there.
Curry, 63, sent all seven members of the Spotsylvania School Board an email with photos of the incident, suggesting it was "a teachable moment" and his hope that county students would be educated on respect for the nation's flag.
"I strongly encourage that ALL students get a few minutes instruction on both flag law and much more importantly the suitable care and attention that our flag deserves," he wrote in his Aug. 28 email.
Federal law outlines proper etiquette for handling, displaying and disposing of the American flag. The Supreme Court has ruled, however, that the constitutional guarantee of free speech prevents punishment for violating the flag code.
Three of seven School Board members had responded to Curry as of the middle of this week and two of those did nothing to ease his frustration, he said.
Board member Dawn Shelley sent a polite reply but made no offer of action.
Ray Lora, also a veteran, first responded, "I share your feelings" about the lack of respect for the flag and country shown at Chancellor High.
When Curry said he wasn't looking for commiseration but action, Lora messaged that he faced "an uphill battle."
"I have endured 9 years of criticism by my brothers in the Legion about the lack of respect for our flag and lack of patriotism shown in our schools," he wrote, referring to his colleagues in American Legion Post 320.
Curry found Lora's messages distressing.
"His initial response was appalling and the other one was only repulsive," Curry said.
But he said board member Amanda Blalock's reply was on the right track.
She wrote that she was "appalled," shared that her family has a long line of service members including one of her sons, and said she would seek to fix it in the schools.
"I will be requesting our Superintendent speak with our Principals or direct his staff to speak with them," Blalock wrote to Curry. "A dialogue needs to take place teaching acceptable behavior and respect with regards to our beloved American Flag. I plan on this never being an issue again."
Curry said he is waiting to see if that happens.
"That's a good start if it manifests," he said. "That shows a level of involvement and commitment."
Curry also contacted all seven members of the county's Board of Supervisors. He said just two--retired Marines Gary Skinner and Tim McLaughlin--called back. They expressed their support, saying they would get in touch with the schools superintendent.
Thursday afternoon, Curry met with Superintendent Scott Baker and found him receptive to his concerns.
Baker spoke to administrators at Chancellor High School before the meeting and learned the student's attitude about the incident, schools spokeswoman Rene Daniels said.
"The student is very sorry," Daniels said. "It was not meant to be offensive to anybody."
Curry said he plans to attend Monday's School Board meeting to voice his displeasure over members' response to what he considers a serious issue.
"The whole thing at the football game was so egregious, I couldn't just say it was wrong," he said. "That wrong is much more than ignorance. That level of ignorance--that level of degradation, desecration--needs to be changed."
Here are some key guidelines for showing respect for the American flag as spelled out by federal statute.
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.
Regimental colors, state flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.
(c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
(e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled or damaged in any way.
(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture or drawing of any nature.
(h) The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying or delivering anything.
(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
(k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.