Ridgecroft students learn true meaning of American Flag

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 7, 2007

AHOSKIE – We see them everywhere….flying proudly in the breeze from stainless steel poles, standing still on a speaker’s podium and draped across buildings.

The flag of the United States of America is a part of our proud heritage, a simple piece of red, white and blue cloth emblazoned with 50 stars.

But as much as we take this American symbol for granted, there is one group of youngsters at Ridgecroft School who have figured out the connection between this colorful material and the sacrifices made to fly it over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

On Tuesday, Ridgecroft’s first-grade class was presented with an American Flag which flew on Jan. 1 over Forward Operating Base Shield in Baghdad, Iraq. The gift came from the 550-member international military and civilian force stationed in that war-torn country.

To explain why Ridgecroft’s first graders were chosen to receive such an esteem honor, one must first rewind to a period of time late last year.

There, Daniel Lane, a Ridgecroft first-grader, proposed an idea to his teachers n Denise White and Charlotte Riddick n concerning sending much-needed items to soldiers taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Among those soldiers was Lane’s uncle, Staff Sgt. J.D. Early of the U.S. Army Reserves.

What began as a small project exploded into a huge effort. Chewing gum, candy, sunscreen, crackers, chips, cookies, toiletry items, etc. began coming in by the car load. The project grew from one big box full of goodies to two, three, and then four. By the time the project was to come to an end in order to ship the items to guarantee arrival by Christmas, there were eight boxes to send.

According to White, the items were not only what was needed, they touched the hearts and souls of these men and women overseas because of the age group which sent the packages.

“For some at the base, they never receive any mail, so these boxes provided them with a sense that someone did care about them,” White said.

“We are proud of our first-graders, along with the entire family here at Ridgecroft School, who have shown they are proud to salute the men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the freedoms we enjoy each and every day,” Ridgecroft Headmaster Elton Winslow said.

Winslow said, weather permitting, the special flag would be flown yesterday (Wednesday) at the school. After that it will be placed in a frame and, accompanied by a letter of appreciation from officials at Forward Operating Base Shield, will be proudly displayed on the “lower school” hallway.

In his personal letter to the Ridgecroft first-graders, Staff Sgt. Early thanked the students for the care packages and gifts they sent for Christmas.

“I speak on behalf of all the troops in my team in saying how much we appreciated all the items that were sent,” Staff Sgt. Early said. “It makes us feel great to know we are supported by such great and patriotic Americans like you. The job we do here is a tough one, but the support we receive makes it much easier.”

Staff Sgt. Early, a 1995 Ridgecroft graduate, is the son of Joel D. Sr. and Helen Early of the Early’s Station community near Ahoskie. Mrs. Early presented the flag and the accompanying documents to White in front of all the lower school (K-5) students at Ridgecroft.

“A little piece of my son came home with this flag,” Mrs. Early stated while young Daniel stood alongside his grandmother.

Staff Sgt. Early, who has spent all of his young adult life in the military (four years active duty and now with the Army Reserves), will return home to Greenville after his tour is over in Iraq. There, he will resume his regular job as an officer with the Greenville Police Department. His wife, Dr. Jackie Early, is employed at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.