Groups Honor Troops with Celebration

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30, 2006 - Waxhaw, N.C., is planning an all-American celebration of freedom to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and honor the nation's servicemembers.

Flags Across the Nation, a nonprofit troop support group; the Waxhaw American Legion; and other local groups are sponsoring the "Waving Patriotism" event. The celebration will start at 11 a.m. Sept. 9 in downtown Waxhaw, said Eileen Schwartz, founder and president of Flags Across the Nation.

Flags Across the Nation and the American Legion are members of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights ways the American people and the nation's corporate sector support U.S. servicemembers.

"We're doing this for the kids. We want the kids to understand the significance of the flag, to learn about respect (for the flag)," Schwartz said. "I'm hoping they're going to learn that the men and women who are serving and are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan are committed to the love of America and to serve the nation."

She said some of the children understand servicemembers' lives are in danger and that they appreciate the gifts and letters that people send them. Schwartz said she hopes the children will understand that those shows of support from home are very important to the servicemembers who receive them.

The festival will be set up similar to a treasure hunt. Children participating will have a list of stations where they can learn flag etiquette and how to properly fold an American flag, as well as learning or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, she said. Children and their parents also are being encouraged to donate an item that could be included in a care package to send to the troops.

Other stations will have visitors participating in art projects that include what organizers are calling "Pocket Patriotism," Schwartz said.

Participants can draw something symbolic of patriotism on one side of a card the size of a business card and write a message or their name on the other side, she said. "The idea behind this is so that we can send these overseas to the troops and they could carry them in their pockets," Schwartz said.

"We try to educate the kids about American values and ... the idea of freedom through art," she said.

That's why Schwartz hopes everyone participates in "Chalk It Up for the Troops."

"That's going to be on the sidewalks and the streets so kids and adults will be able to do patriotic chalk drawings," Schwartz said. For a $1 donation, participants will get a cup of colored chalk to create to create their piece of art. The donations will benefit Flags Across the Nation.

These artworks, as well as all of the events of the day, will be captured in photos and burned to a CD, Schwartz said. A dozen or so CDs will be included in care packages that will go to members of the Army's 108th Division, a reserve unit out of Charlotte, N.C.

After participating in the required number of activities, the American Legion will present the kids with a small American flag and a flag sticker, Schwartz said.

Those attending the celebration, which ends at 5 p.m., also are encouraged to bring any American flags that need to be retired. The American Legion will hold an official flag retirement ceremony at the Museum of the Waxhaws at 7 p.m.

"We already have about 400 flags (to retire)," Schwartz said.

To make the Waving Patriotism celebration complete, a variety of all-American food - hamburgers, popcorn, cotton candy, fruit pies, to name a few - will be available for purchase. A portion of some vendors' proceeds will benefit Flags Across the Nation.

Schwartz said events like these are needed in the country today, especially after the terrorist attacks.

"When 9/11 happened, I perceived the country as feeling united in supporting one another through the crisis ... and being very patriotic," she said. "I'm doing this right now because I think we need to continue showing love for America and support for our country and our troops and ... our (veterans)."

She said while the events of Sept. 11, 2001 were tragic and should be remembered, the country should look for positive ways to bring people together to, "declare the significance of freedom ... and support the efforts of the troops."

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