When I was in eighth grade, my classmate George Warren was the custodian of the school flag.
George’s job was to raise the flag before school, take it down after school, and then return it to our principal for proper storage. Mr. Carlyon, our principal, also taught George how to properly fold the flag into a tricorn shape.
Many guys would have liked George’s job, but George was chosen because he had not missed a day of school in two years, was tall and strong, and was dependable. Also, many of the eighth-grade boys, myself included, were patrol boys, and we couldn’t leave our posts until 8:55 a.m, and then we would have to hightail it to school in order to be in our respective classrooms by 9:05.
George, however, was granted a dispensation. If there were windy conditions or the rope became tangled on the flagpole and George had to struggle to raise the flag, he was permitted to be late getting to class.
Since George was my best friend at Holmes, I asked him about his job and his explicit duties. He said our principal was very clear on what should be done in regard to caring for the flag.
It could only be flown in fair weather, so if George hoisted the flag on a clear day and it started to rain or snow, George would be paged by Mr. Carlyon, and he would then put on his school-issued raincoat and run outside, lower the flag, bring it inside and give it to the principal, who would take care of drying the flag.
Mr. Carlyon would take the flag home each Friday and launder it. Occasionally he would want the flag to be dry cleaned, and then George would take the flag to the cleaners after school on a Friday, and Mr. Carlyon would pick it up on Saturday. Apparently, Mr. Carlyon demanded one-day service.
George told me that when Mr. Carlyon decided a flag had become too worn, and no longer serviceable, he would burn it in the trash barrel behind the school. He said this happened only once during his tenure.
George had to make certain the flag never touched the ground and the pole and ropes were free of debris.
When a special day like Armistice Day [Veterans Day] and Memorial Day came, he would come to school a half hour early so the flag would be up for the observance held on these days. If the special day were pleasant, a patriotic program would be conducted outdoors that included a song or two and a brief speech by Mr. Carlyon.
If the weather was inclement, the program would be conducted in the gym.
George never missed a day, and on graduation day, Mr. Carlyon presented a plaque to George thanking him for his service. He had a tough job, but he was a resourceful and intelligent guy who went on to a career as a Methodist minister.
John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 77 years.