GREENSBURG – I’ve been thinking about our Pledge of Allegiance quite a bit lately. With the Fourth of July coming up, Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day only a few weeks back, and Flag Day last month, it’s probably only natural.
Back in 1940 or 1941, I remember saying The Pledge when in first or second grade and from then on all through school. At that time, though, at least 78 or 79 years ago, we said, “I pledge allegiance to the flag” and at that point we stretched our hand out toward the flag. I didn’t remember when stretching our hand out was stopped or when we started putting our hand over our hearts, or even why it was changed, so I looked it up.
Here’s what I found: “Before 1942, the salute used with The Pledge was a straight right arm raised at a diagonal angle, palm down, fingers extended together and out.” Yes, of course, it was changed because it was too much like the Hitler Nazi salute. I don’t recall that we raised our arms up at all, only straight out toward the flag, although I suppose if the flag was up high we would have raised our arms also.
I will never forget the 2018-2019 Pledge of Allegiance Project at Greensburg Community High School, sponsored by the Student Council. That was when a guest led The Pledge every one of the 189 school days. Those leading The Pledge included local residents and others from many sources.
When asked what kind of assistance he had for the project, John Pratt said, “I had wonderful support from teachers Heather Comer and Brianna Kraushar plus students Bryce McCullough, who recruited Vice President Pence, and Walker Taylor, who recruited Senator Braun.”
Pratt hesitated when asked to name some of the most unforgettable people who led The Pledge. He said anyone who agreed to come early to the high school to lead The Pledge is unforgettable to the students and to himself. Finally, he said, “Coming up with just four or five that resonated with students is a challenge. Of course, Vice President Pence and Governor Holcomb did a wonderful job. We had a handful of Medal of Honor recipients participate, but Kyle Carpenter’s story of jumping on a bomb in Afghanistan to save his friend was pretty amazing. Then there was former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, Leigh Anne Tuohy from ‘The Blind Side,’ and Vietnam POW Everett Alvarez were great. I must include astronaut David Wolfe, who showed up in person for it.”
He said, “Locally, I was impressed with every single person who led The Pledge, but I believe that Kristy Lowe and World War II veterans Maurice Wofford and Joe Kneuven stand out.”
I felt sure after that school year every student in the school would no doubt appreciate The Pledge even more than they had ever done.
Pratt said, “Teachers would tell me how it made students more attentive and would sometimes create positive conversation afterwards. I loved it and would have done it again.”
Last year, Gary Varvel, award winning writer and cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star, wrote a column titled, “How Greensburg High School spiced up The Pledge of Allegiance.” It was about the project of The Pledge in the Greensburg school. He thought the project was outstanding.
The Pledge was officially recognized by Congress in 1945, but was written in 1892 as part of a national patriotic school program. Francis Bellamy, a retired minister, composed it to be published in the magazine The Youth’s Companion and was to be part of the Columbus Day festivities.
I remember a girl in our second grade class who would not say The Pledge. I asked my mother about it and she explained that some people belong to a church that didn’t allow their members to say it. At that time that could have been a problem, because until 1943 a Supreme Court decision made it possible for a student to be kicked out of school for not saying The Pledge.
I do remember when President Dwight Eisenhower asked Congress to add the words “under God.” He stated that the change would “reaffirm the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future and strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”