WALDORF, Md. During his 30 years in the Air Force, Brig. Gen. Allan Smith saw many of his friends and colleagues off to war. Many, said the retired general, made the ultimate sacrifice they never came back.
“They did it for the love of the flag,” he said. “We served our country because we believed in what that flag stood for.”
Upset by what he sees as a lack of patriotism among the country’s young, Gen. Smith on May 9 asked the Charles County, Md., school board to make June 12 a countywide celebration of the U.S. flag. Flag Day traditionally falls on June 14, but Charles County schools dismiss for the summer a day earlier.
School officials rejected Gen. Smith’s idea, saying it was too late in the year for such a resolution to be implemented.
School board member Mary L. Haff, who voted no, said the seven-person board traditionally mulls over any resolution for at least 30 days before taking a vote. Breaking the precedent, she said, could open the door to acting “too quickly on some other issues that may come before us in future.”
Gen. Smith, however, has little patience for those formalities.
“How can they put procedure over patriotism?” he asked.
In fact, it was the patriotism of some board members that allowed the resolution to be heard: It was put to vote because two board members who say they feel deeply about the flag pushed for it.
Retired Col. Donald M. Wade, a school board member, agreed that the resolution violated procedure, but he voted in favor of it because he felt he had to stand up for the flag.
“I served in Vietnam and saw young men come out there and go back in metal coffins… . I saw my friends die in my arms,” Col. Wade said. “I love my flag. I will never vote against my flag.”
Four votes are required to pass the resolution, but only two members voted yes.
The resolution cited a “need to educate students about the history of the U.S. flag, promote its importance, and recognize its significance as this nation’s glorious and everlasting symbol of courage, equality, liberty and hope.”
“[Youths] do not put a hand over their hearts when the pledge is recited. They do not even take their hats off when the national anthem is played,” Gen. Smith said.
It’s not that the board is opposed to the flag, Col. Wade said. “We celebrate it all the time. We have always made sure that we have crisp, bright flags and not old, tattered ones flying in front of the schools in the county.”
Col. Wade, who teaches a Junior Reserve Officer Training Program at the Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George’s County, Md., disagrees with Gen. Smith that students do not respect America.
“There’s a great deal of patriotism around among my students,” he said.
Some principals in Charles County said that while they do not have a separate Flag Day celebration, they teach their students to respect the flag.
“Every day is flag day at our school,” said Carol Leveillee, principal of the Mary H. Matula Elementary School. “Fifth-graders at our school raise the flag every morning and say the pledge.” Students also learn about the flag at events like parades where they march with the flag, she said.
Penny Berg Nye, principal of Dr. James Craik Elementary School, said children at her school have been educated about the flag and what it stands for. “The flag is part of the curriculum for the second grade,” she said.
Some of Gen. Smith’s critics, including Col. Wade, said they suspect the Flag Day flap is intended to draw attention to the Air Force veteran’s proposed run for a school board seat in November an accusation Gen. Smith denies.
“I am doing this because I love my country,” said Gen. Smith, who made an unsuccessful bid as a Republican for the Maryland Senate in 1997. “I want everyone to love that flag as much as I do.”
In Charles County, Gen. Smith’s patriotism is not news no one passing by could miss the flags decorating the sign for his stamp and seal business or the red, white and blue trucks parked by his office.
His office is filled with more flags, and little statuettes of eagles. On hand are tiny lapel pins of Old Glory that he hands out to visitors. His business card identifies him as “Al Smith. An American Patriot.”
The board’s rejection, he said, has left him angry but not defeated. He said he would present another Flag Day resolution in September when schools reopen.
Flag Day commemorates the day in 1777 when the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes pattern for the national flag. The first Flag Day was celebrated a century later, on June 14, 1877. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman signed legislation making it a day of national observance. This article is based in part on wire service reports.