ELGIN - Gusty winds left their mark causing damage to 56 flags that graced the Avenue of Flags at Fort Sill National Cemetery on Veterans Day.
Wasting no time, cemetery officials reached out to the community hoping to find individuals willing to provide assistance with sewing the tattered flags. Recognizing the unique opportunity to be of service to veterans and their families, Representative Toni Hasen- beck, Elgin Middle School Civics & Citizenship students, school staff and volunteers, stepped up to offer a helping hand. Gathered together in the EMS library on Friday, Nov. 22, surrounded by 10 flags provided by the cemetery, Toni talked to students about the significance of the flags and imparted the importance of handling the flags reverently, with respect and care while they undergo repairs.
With needle and thread in hand, Toni gently creased the flag's cleaned up edge and placed a neat row of hand stitches, tacking down the material in preparation for the sewing machine. Instructing students to follow her example, the class divided up into pairs to quietly and carefully complete the task at hand. "I think we're lucky to be able to serve veterans families in the manner," said Toni. "This is such a special item we're dealing with. This is an amazing experience."
AVENUE OF FLAGS
Fort Sill National Cemetery's Assistant Director Skyler Holmes said the flags used to make up the Avenue of Flags are special because they are internment flags that were once presented to the next of kin at a burial. According to Sklyer, some of the flags were placed on top of caskets, while others were presented to the family during a cremation. The flags were then donated to the cemetery by the family and are only flown on special occasions such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
"Generally speaking the flags are only flown for about four hours a day for a couple days out of the year," said Skyler. "This is the first time we sustained 60 mph winds for the day and it left them tattered." Seeking help from the community, over 50 flags were sent out for repair by various individuals, with 10 of them going to EMS. "I think it's a great learn- ing opportunity for middle school kids to learn about what we do here at the cemetery and learn more about veterans in our community," Skyler said.
EMS CIVICS & CITIZENSHIP CLASS
EMS teacher Melissa Evon said having the Civics & Citizenship class get involved provided a way for students to not only learn something new, but also gave them a chance to give back. "We try to teach our kids the importance of patriotism and community service," said Melissa. "Helping repair flags was an opportunity to give where we live and help the Fort Sill National Cemetery that's just down the road."
"The kids also understood it was a way to honor veterans since these flags had been on the caskets of veterans. I was pleased with how seriously they took the task and grateful for all the adult volunteers that stepped in to help us." As of Monday, Nov. 25, Sklyer said 32 of the flags have undergone sewing repairs and have already been returned to the cemetery. A "small handful" of the flags were said to have been damaged beyond repair and will need to be replaced. For more information about the Fort Sill National Cemetery, or to inquire about volunteering at the cemetery's Public Information Center, call (580)492-3201.
The Fort Sill National Cemetery is located at 2648 NE Jake Dunn Road in Elgin. Civics & Citizenship students who helped repair Fort Sill National Cemetery flags on Nov. 22: Zach Barfield, Emma Buckner, Taylor Glover, Hayden Hilliary, Jake Jones, Payton King, Justin Martin, Ryland Rhoads, Christopher Saenz, Nick Soderberg-Petrenko, Jaidyn Stanford, Brett Starkey, Cheyenne Collins and Corry Maddox.