Flag holds special meaning to Countryside Montessori teacher
by Staff Writer
The flag that flies outside of Countryside Montessori School has a story to tell.
More than 45 years ago, it was draped over the coffin of Lt. Lewis Raymond Jones, a U.S. soldier wounded during the invasion of Normandy in World War II and father of Countryside Montessori English teacher Lee deMontigny. And until Monday, Sept. 12, a day after the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, it sat folded, just as it had since Jones’ death, inside a cedar chest in deMontigny’s home.
“I never actually thought, ever, that that flag would come out of the cedar chest,” deMontigny said. “I never thought about unfolding it and flying it, but we had this brand new flagpole and (a school administrator) said they were hoping to get a donation of a flag and the timing just seemed to make sense to me.”
deMontigny’s father enlisted in the U.S Army at the age of 21 in 1942, right after the United States became fully involved in World War II. On June 6, 1944, Jones found himself on the shores of Normandy Beach during the first day of what was later to become known as the beginning of the end of the war. During the first few moments of action, deMontigny said, Jones was hit in the back by a bullet, but continued to direct the men around him to safety. He was later awarded the Purple Heart for his service.
Surgeons at the Washington, D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center decided that it would be unsafe to try and remove the bullet, which was lodged near his lungs. In the following years Jones developed emphysema, and drawbacks from the wound further complicated his condition. He died at the age of 46, when deMontigny was only 13 years old.
“He was fairly young when he died,” she said. “I had a few pauses the year I turned 46, thinking ‘this is as old as my dad ever got.’”
Because Jones and deMontigny’s mother divorced early during her childhood, deMontigny was given the flag draped over Jones’ coffin as his next-of-kin. While U.S. flag code does not demand that military memorial flags remain folded, many choose not to fly their flags, as deMontigny had originally intended. But when Countryside Montessori middle and high school administrator Heide Putt asked staff for a flag to hang on the school’s empty flagpole, built and installed in July as part of former Countryside Montessori student Sidarth Modi’s Eagle Scout project, she said she felt compelled to offer her father’s flag. The date that the flag would be raised, Sept. 12, further solidified her decision.
“I know my dad would have approved of my decision to break with protocol, unfold his flag and give it a new home on this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks,” deMontigny told Countryside Montessori students during the school’s Sept. 11 memorial service. “Hopefully, it will always remind us of all the Americans who have sacrificed for us. It truly is an honor to give his flag to Countryside Montessori School.”
Sidarth, who is now a junior at the North Carolina School of Math and Science in Durham, said he is proud that the flag hanging from the flagpole that he worked to install holds so much significance.
“The American flag has such a significant meaning as it is, but when that flag has been wrapped around a World War II veteran’s coffin, that’s something very special,” he said.
Although deMontigny’s flag flies outside of the school for now, school officials still are seeking a newer, more durable flag to fly on a day-to-day basis. They plan to use deMontigny’s flag only for more formal occasions because of its age.
Those interested in donating a U.S or N.C. flag to Countryside Montessori may call the school at 704-936-5580.