Many of Carson Middle School's eighth-graders never gave much thought to the meaning of freedom in their lives. But Sept. 11 changed that.
"Our freedoms that we've taken for granted do have a price," Camron Wipfli told his eighth-grade classmates. "The lives of our soldiers who have been lost in these battles for freedom must be honored."
The students spent Friday in the third annual Flag Retirement Ceremony to honor those who risked their lives in past wars and those who are fighting today to preserve that freedom.
As part of the ceremony, veteran John D. Arthur was presented with a bundle of letters to deliver to the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Reno.
"The students of this school are showing everyone of Carson City and the world that the soldier is no longer slighted," Arthur said. "They are sending messages of hope and comfort to people who they don't know and may never see."
Col. David Sarnowski addressed the students as the keynote speaker. He read them excerpts from a speech by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who told of an experience he had while a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over five years.
He told how one of McCain's fellow prisoners, Mike Christian used pieces of handkerchiefs and clothing to sew a flag on the inside of his shirt with a bamboo needle. Every afternoon, they hung the shirt on the wall and the 30 to 40 prisoners recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
"I know the Pledge of Allegiance may not seem the most important part of our day now," Sarnowski quoted McCain. "But I can assure you that, in that stark cell, it was indeed the most important and meaningful event."
The Vietnamese later searched the cell and found the flag. Christian was severely beaten for hours.
However, later that night, sitting beneath a naked bulb in the corner of the cell, with his eyes nearly swollen shut from the beating, he began sewing another flag.
"He was not making that flag because it made Mike Christian feel better," Sarnowski read. "He was making that flag because he knew how important it was to us to be able to pledge our allegiance to our flag and country.
"So the next time you say the Pledge of Allegiance, you must never forget the sacrifice and courage that thousands of Americans have made to build our nation and promote freedom around the world."
Matt Dewitt, 13, said he believes Americans have a renewed respect for their flag.
"All this tragedy makes you think more about what the flag really is," he said. "It's not just a flag, it's a symbol of our freedom."
Students named their teacher Bill Schultz and Tom Baker as American heroes. Both are Vietnam veterans.
The ceremony was organized, for the third year, by teachers Jessica Daniels and Ananda Campbell to boost patriotism and to teach students how to properly retire and care for an American flag.
"This country is in good hands," Daniels said. "These kids gave this from their hearts."
Veterans Day Weekend
Saturday -- Marine Corps birthday
Sunday -- Veterans Day Parade, noon, in Virginia City
Dedication of Vietnam Veterans, 3 p.m., Mills Park in Carson City