PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- A native of Skowhegan, Maine and retired schoolteacher, Larry Ross, was given an opportunity to travel to each state across the nation to make sure the American flag he carried with him would fly in each state.
On Oct. 6, the flag made its last stop in Hawaii, the 50th state, where it was flown over the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. The memorial is the final resting place for Sailors and Marines who lost their lives during the 1941 Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and their shipmates who requested to be buried at the memorial to joint their fallen brothers-in-arms.
"I am bringing a flag to every state in the union on behalf of the USS America and the sponsor of the ship Mrs. Lynne Pace," said Ross. "I presented to her an idea of taking a flag to every state of the union speaking to as many young people as I possibly can across the country."
Chief Machinist's Mate Michael Sears Jr. and Electronics Technician 3rd Class Christian Casiple, both based in Hawaii, assisted Ross in raising the flag over the USS Arizona Memorial.
"It was an honor to be here and assist in raising the flag over the Arizona," said Casiple. "To hear that [Ross] have been to every state with this flag, telling the stories of the fallen is really amazing."
One may wonder how he managed to visit every state across America. It was a long but fulfilling journey according to Ross.
"We started in May and we have done it in three different legs," explained Ross. "We did an east coast leg that brought us down as far as Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Next we went to Detroit, Michigan, down to Mississippi and did all of the states in the Midwest. About Sept. 7 we flew into California and then headed east and have been all the way up to Minnesota, Seattle, Alaska; drove to San Francisco and flew over here to Hawaii."
During his travels, Ross met and talked with students and young people of all ages who signed a "Pledge to Myself" reading, "I pledge to protect my life and the lives of others, to use my liberty for good and to help others do the same and to pursue my happiness," which references to the famous quote in the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson.
"Along the way we have been meeting with kids and talking about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and using examples of Marines and Sailors that my class had researched," said Ross, as he held the envelope with photographs and information about families he met in his travels. "In Alaska I talked about Grant Frazier and met with his family. I have been in contact with 12 families, Gold Star families I refer to them, all throughout the country and I use these families in my story, personalizing it for kids to explaining that to me the same people represented in this envelope are the exact same people that are serving the America today."
Ross explained his mission in telling stories and educating the new generations about the past and how it affects our present and our future.
"I want to talk about the attributes, the values and the traits that [fallen heroes] demonstrated are truly examples of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," he added. "Those traits serve you well whether you are in the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps; a teacher in an elementary school or on a soccer team - it doesn't matter, they serve you well."
Ross further explained that the true gift of this journey is to have the young people internalize Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness and make it a part of their lives as he stressed the importance of the connection between the young people and the Sailors and Marines aboard the ships.
With the flag that flew throughout the states, Ross intends to present it to Mrs. Pace upon his return to California.
"When I get back to California, the flag will be presented to Mrs. Pace," he shared. "It will be framed and it will go to the USS America where it will stay on permanent display. It's really her [Pace's] gift to the ship, as I explained to the kids."
On Oct. 11 the Navy's newest amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), is slated to be commissioned during the San Francisco Fleet Week. Amphibious warships are designed to support the Marine Corps tenets of Operational Maneuver From the Sea and Ship to Objective Maneuver. They must be capable of sailing in harm's way and enable rapid combat power buildup ashore in the face of opposition. Because of their inherent capabilities, these ships are called upon to also support humanitarian and other contingency missions.
"I really believe that's the gift that Mrs. Pace wants to give ... is to have kids connect to the United States, to USS America, but then equally important to connect to the people onboard," concluded Ross.