Flag Day ceremony stirs emotions, patriotism

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

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The U.S. flag that Air Force veteran Aaron Kraft showed the crowd Sunday during the 2015 Flag Day at Fort Vancouver ceremony was more special to him than any of the other dozen flags he’s received.

“This year (it) means a lot more to me,” Kraft told the roughly 100 people gathered on the parade grounds at the Fort Vancouver National Site. “This flag was given to me on my birthday by my beautiful daughter, who is in Afghanistan. … God bless her and her entire platoon.”

He choked up while speaking about his daughter’s military service; then he unfolded the flag and held it up for the group to see. Kraft, a representative of Flag Day sponsor Veolia Water, added that the flag “means everything to me.”

The U.S. flag, which turned 238 on Sunday, is a symbol of many ideals, including courage, hard work, love and public service, said Tracy Fortmann, superintendent of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

In the United States, “We have so many opportunities that other people in the world do not have,” Fortmann added.

The celebration included “The Star-Spangled Banner,” performed by singer Kyra Smith; histories of the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance, told by Marshall leadership award recipients Sean Nolan and John Blom, respectively; and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance led by Eagle Scout Patrick Keller, a student at Prairie High School.

Just before the pledge began, the audience stood and turned to an oversized U.S. flag held up by a group of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The crowd held hands over their hearts or saluted as they recited the familiar words.

Nolan, a graduate of La Center High School who is headed to the West Point military academy, noted the many places the U.S. flag has been, including the top of Mount Everest in 1963 and the surface of the moon in 1969.

“We are not fazed by the challenges we face as a nation,” Nolan said.

The ceremony ended on a lighthearted note with the annual patriotic tie competition between local mayors. One by one, several mayors explained their ties to the judges — the group of Scouts who had held up the flag during the pledge. Then the mayors strutted down an aisle among the crowd as music played.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt wore a Captain America tie. Woodland Mayor Grover Laseke wore an extra-wide stars-and-stripes tie that his wife made. Yacolt Mayor Jeff Carothers showed off a tie that displayed images of a steam train and Mount St. Helens.

But the winner, the Scouts decided, was Washougal Mayor Sean Guard. He first showed the judges a basic tie he’d purchased in the nation’s capital. “This is the tie … stunned silence,” he said as the children examined it.

“We have no idea what it’s about,” one girl remarked.

“Can I change it really quick?” Guard asked. He ran to the back of the shaded bandstand and returned wearing a large, shiny bow tie in red, white and blue. “Is this more fun?”

“Yeah!” the kids responded.

Flag Day also helped the Girl Scouts reach a goal. Before the ceremony, they participated in activities to learn more about Washington state symbols, patriotic songs and Ulysses S. Grant, who once was stationed at Fort Vancouver. Through it all, the girls earned their “celebrating community” badge.