Fifth-grader Arkin Haugland is the keeper of the American flag at Douglas Elementary School.
Arkin, 11, raises the flag every morning and takes it down every afternoon. He watches for rain and heads out in the cold or the heat.
Earlier this year, he reported that the flag, which was sent to the Raleigh school by a Marine and father in 2007, wasn’t looking so grand. The red, white and blue weren’t so bright, the corners had tattered.
It was time to lower the flag for the last time.
On Wednesday, the Douglas community gathered for a retirement ceremony on the school’s blacktop.
With help from local firefighters and police officers, a group of Boy Scouts cut up the flag that once flew over Camp Al Asad in Iraq, then placed each of the pieces into a fire.
Former Douglas students Kyle and Kendall Terashima placed the first of the 13 stripes into the flames. Their father, Lt. Col. Eric Terashima, sent the flag to the school when he was serving in Iraq nearly a decade ago.
Kendall, now 15 and a ninth-grader at the Longleaf School of the Arts, was in first grade when she helped a group of Marine reservists raise the flag at Douglas. Kyle is now 13.
Kendall said she would say an extra prayer for her father every morning when she saw the flag outside her school.
Terashima, who now is stationed in New Orleans, was on his fourth deployment.
Kendall was surprised when she saw how the flag had faded since she was a student at Douglas. She’s glad the flag had a home there, even after she moved on to middle school and her father was home safely.
“I think it’s nice that it lasted so long and did the school so much good,” she said.
Kelli Williams, a counselor at Douglas, said the ceremony, attended by the school’s fifth-graders, was a way for students to think about patriotism and citizenship and their role in the world, with military families and first responders in front of them.
“I think it was a good way to add to their experience and make those connections,” Williams said.
After the last of the stripes had been burned, Arkin walked to the edge of the fire pit with his sister, 6-year-old Erin. He crouched and laid the flag’s field of blue with its 50 white stars across the flames.
He had known the story of the flag, how much it mattered not just to him but to others. He was glad to retire it properly.
“It feels really special to take care of something,” he said.
After the ceremony, the Terashima family stopped to thank Arkin.
“It means a lot that you took such good care of it,” said Donna Terashima, Kyle and Kendall’s mother, as the last of the embers burned in the fire pit.
Arkin smiled. He would be back on duty soon.