'The flag still stands for freedom'
David Altrichter, a member of American Legion Post 16, explains traditions of the American flag.
Four Girl Scouts troops came to Hope Lutheran Church on January 23 to see a presentation about the American flag by Dave Altrichter and Richard Sosoka. It was sponsored by the Lehigh Township Historical Society.
The troops were Junior Troop, 8187 of Hope Lutheran, Junior Troop 6156 of Friedens, Brownie Troop 675 of Slatington and the Mixed Level Troop 6343 of Emerald.
Beverly Putt, a member of the historical society, thanked everyone for coming and gave a special welcome to the scouts.
Altrichter, a Navy man, has been in American Legion Post 16 for more than forty years. His wife Janice substituted for someone who was unable to participate.
Richard Sosoka was in the Army for 33 years and has been a Santa Claus with the Moose for 30 years. His hobby is painting eagles in the colors of the flag.
When Altrichter was asked to do a program, he chose one that is "close to my heart, the American flag."
He said some in the audience grew up with the 48-star flag when there were pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in each classroom. There was an American flag in the room and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited each morning.
Veterans were asked to stand and be acknowledged followed by the scouts standing. He told them he bought four boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Scouts walk up the street with the flag for the Memorial Day program. This is one of many programs the Legion sponsors, said Altrichter.
"Even in our darkest moments Americans always have hope and find a way to surmount it," he said.
A flag may be a flimsy piece of gauze or plastic and may be made in China but regardless of what it is made of or where it comes from it is important.
"I feel pride as Old Glory flies in the breeze. I get a lump in my throat when there is a big flag on the football field," he said.
He recalled the flag-draped coffin of an average guy who worked at Dieter's Foundry. He and his friend Dave Scott would listen to Marlin Horn tell stories for hours but he never mentioned military service. He joined Hose Company #1 in Slatington and always flew the flag in front of his house. He became an unofficial flag policeman. If he saw where people were displaying it incorrectly he would tell them how it should be.
Legionnaire Mark Queen and Horn's wife worked together. One day when they were talking Queen's wife learned that he was a veteran and he was invited to join the Legion.
Maybe I didn't realize how important it was until 9/11, said Altrichter.
Twice a year the Legion puts over 2,000 flags on veterans graves in Northwestern and Northern Lehigh school districts. Enough people turn out that it can be done in two to three hours.
"What do we do with the used flags?" he asks. Daniel Ziegler, Memorial Day committee president, takes them to dispose of them. They will be destroyed by fire in a ceremony.
He and Janice traveled to Branson, Mo., where they met Andrea Brett who had written a poem, "I Am a Veteran." It said in part that a veteran may be someone who works in a factory, a grocer, baker or teacher. People may never know them if they pass them on the street.
The American flag is a reminder of the many who may never return. "Let us never forget their sacrifice," Altrichter said.
He and Sosoka showed how the American flag is to be folded while Janice explained what each fold means. After 13 folds, the stars are uppermost and with the edges tucked in it takes the shape of a Revolutionary War era cocked hat.
Sosoka said George Washington asked Betsy Ross to make a flag. She would only do so if the stars could be five pointed. When asked why she preferred it to the common six-or-eight pointed stars, she said they were easier to make.
Sosoka started with an 8-1/2-by-10-inch piece of paper and after five folds he made one cut with a scissors and unfolded a five-pointed star.
He said people say the story of Betsy Ross is a fairy tale but "please explain why we have a five-pointed star."
Our flag should never be dipped to an individual, should not be used as bedding or a drapery and never for advertising or any other temporary use, said Altrichter.
He had a book and the words to the song "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood. He said that means more to him since his house burned a year ago and many historical collections were lost. It says, "If tomorrow all the things were gone … and I had to start again with just my children and my wife … The flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away."