Greenport elementary students celebrated Flag Day this morning by learning about the history of the American flag — and the history of one special American flag in particular.
The flag in question once belonged to United States Army Captain Brian Ellwood, who is the brother of fourth-grade teacher Elizabeth Burns.
Ellwood was stationed in Iraq after 9/11 and was one of the soldiers who received care packages from Greenport students in the months followings the terrorist attacks.
“Greenport students sent letters, food, drinks, magazines,” Ellwood said in a video played for the students today. “I’m just one of many soldiers that benefitted.”
To thank the students of Greenport, members of Ellwood’s troop in Balad, Iraq signed an American flag and sent it back to Burns.
The flag has been hanging in Burns’ classroom since she received it more than a decade ago. Since then, it has begun to wear.
“It was starting to fade a little bit, the writing where the soldiers and signed and wrote something nice to our school,” said principal Joseph Tsaveras. “Our students always step up and do the right thing, so I thought ‘maybe we can put this somewhere more noticeable, to talk about the meaning behind it.’”
He asked an art teacher to look at the flag and to figure out how to restore it. The framed, restored flag was unveiled today during the ceremony. It will soon hang in the auditorium’s entrance.
“I know you guys are young, but I hope you enjoy seeing this flag to recognize how much we appreciate what Greenport did for us,” Ellwood said.
Sixth-grade class-presidents Anabelle O’Dell and Maryum Qamar emceed the ceremony, where students read essays about the American flag and what it represents to them.
“Red means bravery, white means peace and blue means strength,” said Lilly Corwin, grade four. “It’s a symbol of freedom. It makes people think of the soldiers that fought for us, and it makes people feel joy and pride.”
“When our soldiers see the flag they remember what they’re fighting for,” Leon Creighton, grade four, read from his essay.
Cayla Hardnett, grade five, read a poem she wrote called “Our Flag.”
First Sergeant Jack Martilotta, Greenport teacher and football coach, spoke about what the flag means to him.
“The flag to me represents peace, courage and strength of our county, but I think it represents something a little more,” said Martilotta. “It represents that being an American is essentially a choice.”
Martilotta said he is the grandson of Italian immigrants.
“It’s a super thing we have in this country,” he said. “We’re all one, and when you’re overseas and you see that flag it reminds you of that, and it fills you with pride.”
The ceremony concluded with a performance on “One Nation” by the fourth-grade. On the final chorus, the whole school was invited to join in — they all knew the words, having learned the song for a concert the previous week.
“We are one nation, we are one land,” the students sang together. “Together in freedom, united, we stand.”
“It really means a lot to these students, to have that unity,” Burns said, noting that a few students had tears in their eyes in the final verses. “Coming from all different backgrounds, these kids are so proud to be part of ‘one nation.’”