My sister, brothers and I grew up under a roof where duty to country and family was seldom questioned. When the Air Force and later the Army gave us our relocation orders, we would purge, then pack our belongings to meet our household-goods weight limit and settle in another country or state.
For more than half our youth, we lived on military bases, where our compass always pointed toward the American flag billowing outside the military headquarters building.
From our bedrooms, playground or grassy field, we’d stop running, playing or eating at precisely 5 p.m. (also known as 1700) to face the nearest flag and stand at attention during “Retreat.” A blaring bugle signalled that we stand together.
Although I never entirely understood why we stood at attention or what “Retreat” signified, I believed that not standing at attention was disrespectful to my country and my dad.
As an adult working at a middle school, I pledge my allegiance every weekday morning, alongside more than 500 students and close to 50 adults.
Though the Pledge of Allegiance has incited national controversy, at our school, in our small corner of this nation, we collectively state that we’re one nation under God. We face the flag and for 13 to 14 seconds, the vast majority of us stand together while some respectfully remain seated. We state the pledge to remind ourselves that we would like to be an indivisible nation, striving for liberty and justice for all.
When I received the list of my Reader Columnist print dates this year, I was pleased to see that I would be published on Memorial Day. My dad is a retired Army warrant officer and my sister is a retired Air Force Reserves colonel.
I am humbled by this writing assignment, because I haven’t experienced the loss that so many families have. Both of my family members returned in good health — my dad from Vietnam and my sister from Iraq. I acknowledge that not every child, sister or parent has been as fortunate.
At each high school graduation, I’ve watched thousands of students cross the stage to receive their diplomas — some destined for the armed services. When they experience hardship, such as overseas deployment or boot camp, I hope that they’re confident we recognize their contributions. I hope they remember the annual Veterans Day assemblies, the daily Pledge of Allegiance and the Honor Guard posting the colors.
My most memorable Veterans Day assembly was in 2005. It was less than two months prior to my sister leaving for Iraq to serve in a medical unit. Close to 2,000 high school students, staff, a handful of veterans and parents listened to “In Flanders Field,” sung by teenage voices.
The lyrics and flat-noted melody conveyed the sadness that Dr. John McCrae must have felt as he wrote about the poppies that grew “row by row” between the white crosses of World War I soldiers.
I hope our graduates remember the poems and student-made slide shows, acknowledging military sacrifices, depicting images of those who have served.
Every November, we only sacrifice an hour out of the school day while our military personnel sacrifice their lives to protect our freedoms and national security. Our most recent assembly featured the middle school band – 100 students strong – playing the anthems for each of the armed services.
Parents who currently serve in the military are invited to stand when “Anchors Aweigh,” “The Caissons Go Rolling Along,” “The Wild Blue Yonder” and “The Marines’ Hymn” resound through our gym.
I don’t live on a military base anymore, but when I’m at home and it’s quiet, I still hear “Retreat,” followed by “The National Anthem” sounding across the miles at 4:30 p.m. It reminds us of the people who made a commitment to protect and serve, no matter the cost.
Heidi Fedore of Lakewood is a middle school principal in Gig Harbor. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.