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American Legion members visit Great Bend schools
flag program Lincoln 2019
Ralph Sunley, Commander of Great Bend American Legion Post 180, demonstrates the proper way to fold an American flag during a program for fourth graders at Lincoln Elementary School in this undated file photo.

Shortly after the morning announcements and recitation of “The Pledge of Allegiance” Tuesday at Lincoln Elementary School, fourth graders were treated to a visit from members of the Great Bend American Legion Post 180 and its Auxiliary. The guests were there to talk about the flag of the United States — how to display it and how to respect it.

Members of the American Legion Family plan to visit seven elementary schools in Great Bend in the coming days, said Brenda Krueger from the Auxiliary. Lincoln School was their first stop.

The flag is our nation’s most recognized symbol, Krueger said. “It’s a living thing — it’s something that we should give great respect to.”

The flag was first authorized by Congress on June 14, 1777, which is why Flag Day is celebrated each year on June 14. Originally, the flag had 13 stripes and 13 stars, representing the original 13 states. The plan was to add a star and a stripe each time a new state was admitted to the Union. Vermont was admitted in 1791, followed by Kentucky in 1792, bringing the number of states to 15. As more states came into the Union it became evident that there would be too many stripes. So, in 1818, Congress enacted that the number of stripes would be fixed at 13, while a star would be added for each state.

American Legion Post 180 Commander Ralph Sunley and Vice Commander Katharine Piper demonstrated the proper way to fold a large American flag – such as one that might be draped over the casket of a deceased veteran and then presented to the veteran’s family after the service. U.S. veteran Dennis Hill, who served in Vietnam and will soon join one of the Honor Flights to Washington, D.C., assisted in explaining what each of the 13 folds symbolizes. This folding method produces a triangle-shaped form with only the blue union showing.

According to the materials provided by the veterans, any rule or custom pertaining to the display of the flag of the United States may be modified by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States. However, Krueger said there is currently misinformation, perhaps an “urban legend,” that the flag no longer must be illuminated when displayed at night. To the contrary, the Flag Code still states, “The flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.” While that may not require a spotlight, the American Legion interprets “proper illumination” as “a light specifically placed to illuminate the flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable as such by the casual observer.”

Another local veteran, Larry Buczinski, stopped by the school at the end of the program, wearing his uniform. The post members are still working on their schedule but plan to visit all five of the Great Bend USD 428 elementary schools, as well as Central Kansas Christian Academy and Holy Family School. At most schools they will present the program to fourth graders. However, since they missed Riley Elementary School in recent years, they plan to address grades 4-6 at that school.