It’s Still a Grand Old Flag

-North Jacksonville 48-star School Classroom Flag Honored-

Remarks by Dr. Tracy D. Connors, CAPT USN (Ret) during opening ceremonies for 60th Reunion of the Andrew Jackson High School Class of 1956 on May 21, 2016.

AJHS_Reunion Sign

Tonight we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the class of 1956 finally escaping from Andrew Jackson Senior High school. Before that, most of you had completed eighth and ninth grades at Edmund-Kirby Smith Junior High School in the early 1950s. I was a year behind you as a member of what would become the class of 1957.

When we weren’t in school, we were watching television, an amazing technological breakthrough that most of our families found a way to bring home so they could watch “Father Knows Best,” or the Army-McCarthy hearings, or to see Marilyn Monroe marry Joe DiMaggio, or watch Bill Haley and The Comets play Rock Around the Clock.

TDC_21May2016_Flag History_600pxs
Dr. Tracy D. Connors explains to classmates how he retrieved a soiled American flag from a classroom wastebasket.

When we weren’t watching the new boob tube, we were cruising up and down Main Street, in and out of Bailey’s drive-in, or filling up our tanks with $.23 a gallon gasoline for a carload of us to head over the Main St. Bridge to Skateland on Mary Street.

When we were in school we arrived at Kirby Smith mostly by bus.  Most of us had to wait outside the school until it officially opened. A few of us however, carried special hall passes that allowed us to enter the school early. We were proud members of the Projector Club, sponsored by teacher Nan B. Middleton. Our job was to prepare the various projectors on rolling stands that were rolled from class to class by us to show educational films to various classes.  Mostly Encyclopedia Britannica films, as I remember.

Tracy Connors’ Eagle Scout photograph in 1955.

In 1953 I was in the eighth grade during the time when Coke Barr was the principal. I was also a very dedicated Boy Scout, about first class, at the time, and on my way to Eagle in 1955.

For most of us, the official school day began in our homerooms when we assembled to pledge allegiance to the American flag that always hung in the front of the room above the blackboard, and to hear announcements from the front office. The flags that hung in our classrooms all had 48 stars. Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959.

After that, we began the school day, which consisted of hour-long classes during which we moved all over the school as we found our way to the right room.

We took that Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America very seriously. Many of us would serve the flag and pay the price of Freedom in years to come.

48-star United States flag used in elementary school classrooms in the 1940's and 1950's.
48-star United States flag used in elementary school classrooms in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

The curriculum was very challenging and included history, English, various levels of algebra, biology, and Latin. And improbably enough, my Latin teacher was named Edna Toombs.  Every morning, in our homerooms we pledged allegiance to the United States flag, recited the Lord’s Prayer, and often sang a patriotic song. Over the many years that it hung in the Latin classroom and homeroom of Mrs. Toombs, this flag was saluted or seen by thousands of young boys and girls, many of whom sad to relate, are no longer with us. Many of Mrs. Toombs’ students actually pledged allegiance in Latin.

Ego vexillo unitoruum statuum americae ac rei publicae quam refert ipsum fidelitatae voveo. Uni nationi, sub deo, indivisibili cum libertate atque justitia omnibus.

One afternoon as I was helping the teacher clean erasers (yes, we actually did that by slapping the erasers on the back of the stationary fans that blew the dust out the open windows), I noticed that our homeroom flag had been tossed into the wastebasket.

Yes, it was dirty from who knows how many years of hanging above the blackboard, but as a Boy Scout I knew that there were rules about how one treated our nation’s flag.

I wasn’t sure that what I was doing was wrong, but while she was out of the room, I fished the flag out of the wastebasket, folded it carefully in the triangular flag method, and carried it home. At least, I thought, I can make sure my Boy Scout troop disposes of it properly in the specified manner.

When I examined it more closely, I saw that it was made from a sturdy fabric and did not have any actual wear on it. After all, it had been hanging above the blackboard all those years. I wasn’t sure what the regulations specified about cleaning a flag, but I carefully washed it with a mild detergent by hand in our kitchen sink at our home in North Shore – several times in fact.

The dust and dirt that came out of the flag explained why it did look so old. When I finished the washing and rinsing, once again, the red was brave, the white was pure, and the blue was true.

By that time, we had confirmed two more states into the union, and 48-star flags were no longer wanted. First, I hung it in my room. Then I put it on a Flagstaff and it has hung, and been honored, in my home for many decades. Our children and grandchildren have honored it.  When classmates from that time come to the house I point out that sturdy American flag and remind them that it was probably one they saluted and to which they pledged their allegiance so many years ago.

As I said, I treasure that flag. And, I would like it to have a new home.

CAPT Tracy Connors and CDR William Brinkley with 48-star American flag that hung in Kirby-Smith Junior High School classroom for decades.
CAPT Tracy Connors and CDR William Brinkley with 48-star American flag that hung in Kirby-Smith Junior High School classroom for decades. (Photo by Glenda Harper)

In fact, your flag is in the process of being returned to its home. This proud American classroom symbol, that represents the national pride and patriotic devotion of several generations of North Jacksonville students, will be returned with appropriate ceremony and recognition to the Duval County School Board at its June 13 meeting.  Your reunion committee agreed with me that it should be an appropriate part of this special reunion this evening.

Many of us served that flag and what it represented as a symbol of Freedom and Liberty in uniform. At this time I would like to ask that all our veterans in the audience stand and be recognized.

Now, may we once more as classmates pledge allegiance to the same flag that we honored in our youth.

Will the audience stand as Commander Bill Brinkley advances the colors.

Would you join with me in the Pledge of Allegiance to our proud American Flag.


© Copyright 2016 BelleAire Press, LLC

About Tracy Connors

Tracy D. Connors graduated from Jacksonville University (AA), University of Florida (BA), the University of Rhode Island (MA), and Capella University (Ph.D. with Distinction, human services management, 2013). Ph.D. (Honorary), Leadership Excellence, Jacksonville University, December, 2013. Designated a "Distinguished Dolphin" by Jacksonville University, Feb. 2, 2010.