By Liz Fisher
Special to The CS&T
Why is it important to preserve the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance?
The past few years have seen a push by several groups, government entities and even school districts to eliminate the acknowledgement of God from the pledge, which was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy for the “The Youth’s Companion” magazine in Boston. President Dwight D. Eisenhower added the phrase “under God” in 1954 as a way to highlight the Judeo-Christian values on which our country was founded.
On Saturday, May 14 as a dozen students from St. Mark School in Bristol placed American flags on veterans’ graves in St. Mark Cemetery and the adjoining Bristol Cemetery in Bristol Township, there was no hesitation when asked why “under God” should be retained as part of the pledge.
A leaden sky and emerald blankets of grass sharpened the red, white and blue of hundreds of flags that were being planted in preparation for Memorial Day, May 30, when spectators and veterans’ organizations will gather to honor the military, especially those who died while serving our country.
“We keep God in the pledge because God is our creator and He helps us,” said eighth-grader Sam LaRosa, who participated in the event with his parents, Sam and Janine, and his three siblings. “He has a purpose for everything, and we should follow Him in everything, including in the pledge.”
Sam’s 9-year-old brother, Nick, believes the pledge needs to include God because “we couldn’t do anything without Him.”
Jack LaRosa, 11, and his 7-year-old sister Mary both agree that faith plays a vital role in marking Memorial Day.
“We need to remember God and remember everybody that was in the war and that served our country,” Jack said.
“God created our earth, and we should take care of what He gave us,” added Luke Wade, 12. “We have to let Him know that we always remember that.”
For 12-year-old Lily Corrigan, the pledge is just one example of how people should remember their blessings.
“God gave us our freedom and we should respect that by using His name,” Lily said.
Lily’s sisters, Molly, 13, and Annie, 9, agreed.
“God made us and using His name is a way of asking Him to look over us,” Annie said. Molly said that God is too important in the lives of Catholics to be dropped from the Pledge of Allegiance.
“For people who don’t believe, we respect their stand,” she said. “They have to respect our beliefs.”
The flag planting is an annual event to which local veterans organizations invite the youngsters. Sharon Lalli, president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Robert W. Bracken American Legion Post 382, said the kids’ involvement is a way to help them understand what soldiers have sacrificed for others’ freedom.
“We want them to be among those who do not forget,” Lalli said.
As lines of flags began to stand in formation throughout the grounds of both cemeteries, stories of courage and pain of previous generations surfaced. Sam and Janine LaRosa talked to Sam’s great-uncles, Louis and Sammy D’Ambrosia.
Louis was shot and killed as he parachuted into Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. His brother, Sammy, went on to become a war hero, decorated years later by then-President Bill Clinton. A poignant note to their service was the fact that their father, Salvatore, who was living in Bristol at the time, had to surrender his radio to authorities.
“Because he was Italian, they probably thought he was a spy,” Sam LaRosa said. His wife, Janine, said the faith connection with patriotism is one that all children should learn.
“It’s not just about Korea or Vietnam,” Janine said. “It’s still going on today with cousins who are serving in the Marines. Keeping God in the Pledge of Allegiance gives us a basis for morality. Our country was founded on the values of freedom to worship.”
Later in the day, Tom Goodman, commander of the Joseph Schumacher VFW Post 1597 in Croydon, paced the cemetery placing flags where metal markers near the headstones indicated a veteran’s grave. Markers show which war the veteran fought in: a cross for the Spanish-American War, a star for World War I, a flying duck for World War II, a round emblem engraved with symbols of each branch of the service for Korea, a wreath for the Persian Gulf War, and a simple globe for the War on Terrorism.
“We like to have the kids come because they learn about history,” Goodman said. “A walk in the cemetery shows graves from the Civil War through the present day.”
Elizabeth Fisher is a freelance journalist and member of St. Mark Parish in Bristol.
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