PELHAM — Like the weathered veteran’s faces of wars long past, the neatly folded pile of American flags represented freedom in their faded glory.
On Friday morning, the seventh-grade class at St. Patrick School paused to honor their nation’s most familiar symbol, along with those who fought for it.
Early on in the school year, the 25 students in the class were asked to select a community service project to work on throughout the year, teacher Lynne Stader said.
It was Theron Zajchowski, a member of Boy Scout Troop 610, who immediately raised his hand, suggesting they set a goal of collecting 50 worn, tattered flags over the course of the school year.
His classmates all agreed and from there the patriotic youngsters got straight to work, decorating cardboard collection boxes in hues of red, white and blue and calling on community members to bring in their retired flags.
By May, the seventh-graders had collected over 70 flags, and during Friday morning’s ceremony, a handful of citizens brought in a couple more.
“Always remember our flags are important and should be viewed with the same respect we give to our soldiers,” Zajchowski said Friday morning, as VFW Post 10722 Sr. Vice Commander Ray Fabian stood at attention, saluting each of the folded flags.
All of the flags collected by the children will meet their final resting place on June 15, when the local VFW hosts its annual flag retirement ceremony.
Friday’s ceremony offered a chance for the local children to show their gratitude to those who served.
In a moving poem written by eighth-grader Justine Aho — “Caps Off!” — several audience members, some of them in uniform, wiped away tears.
“Caps off to those who won’t return home, to heavens where they’ll soon enough roam,” one line of Aho’s poem read.
Later, the children sang patriotic songs, presented the colors with members of the local VFW post and offered up some of their own thoughts that came to mind as Memorial Day approaches.
“You should always think of the flag as a living thing. It stands for courage and glory,” seventh-grader Kayli Keenan said.
Visibly moved by the student’s good works, Fabian offered up some words of his own.
“Our hearts go out to all of you,” he told them. “We just love you.”