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Sadness of a flag

Updated: May 29, 2022

I took my wife to Washington-Dulles airport today for the start of her much-, much-, much-deserved Mediterranean vacation with her best friend. When we went past Chambersburg Memorial Park, the massive U.S. flag was stretched to its full glory . . . at half-staff.

President Biden ordered the flags lowered for the 19 children and two teachers murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It was, sadly, an order given all too often in our country.

As we traveled along the interstates and smaller roads, many other flags were also at half-staff. Some waving freely in the breeze, others hanging limply as if sharing our collective sadness.

I went to elementary school in the late-1950s. In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, we were also taught to “duck and cover” in the event of a nuclear bomb. Even my small Northwestern PA hometown wasn’t immune to the national fear about a nuclear war with the then-U.S.S.R. To us kids, it was a funny diversion to classes. To parents, it was something they knew we had to do but, I think, never thought would happen. (I do admit that one of my favorite movies is Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.)

When I was deciding which university to attend after high school, I received my acceptance letter from Kent State . . . two weeks after that shooting. I didn’t go there.

As a newspaper reporter I covered a range of incidents, including shootings. One of the hardest things I ever had to do was to contact the family of a shooting victim and ask for comments. Yes, it’s unseemly but, sadly, that’s often what is news.

When my two now-adult sons went through elementary and high school, neither had active shooter training. Ellen and I never worried about someone coming in and murdering their entire classroom or randomly shooting them.

I went through many active shooter drills at Shippensburg University and worked closely with University Police about communications during an active shooter on campus, especially after the shootings at Virginia Tech that killed 32. It was something we planned for, but all dreaded.

Today, the names of schools where mass shootings have occurred are burned into our minds. Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, Sandy Hook Elementary, the nearby West Nickel Mines Amish School and, of course, Columbine.

No child should be murdered in school, no parent should agonizingly wait to identify the bodies of their child and no country should allow this.

I offer no suggestions or solutions, just words for thought.

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