A love and respect for the American flag has created a bond between American Legion members, separated by age and geography.
Tony Hollandsworth is a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, working for the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. While still living in Indianapolis, he met Paul and Jennifer Norton while they were conducting a flag education program at a local elementary school that he attended.
“I needed some of the kids to be a part of the detail during the ceremony,” said Paul Norton, who leads American Legion Post 510’s flag etiquette program. “I asked the teachers I was working with to pick out a few of their best and brightest to help with the presentation. The name Tony Hollandsworth was immediately mentioned.”
Hollandsworth caught on extremely fast.
“It’s one of those great moments as an instructor when you can see that the subject has really clicked for someone,” Paul Norton said. “You could see it clear as day with Tony. He was attentive and really showed a passion for the program. You just knew that the kid got it.”
After the presentation, the Nortons presented Hollandsworth with a military challenge coin for his diligent work, but they didn’t realize at the time what they meant to Hollandsworth.
While in high school, Hollandsworth had his eyes on becoming an EMT. However, his plans changed once he turned 18. After graduating in 2014, he joined the Air Force.
It didn’t take long for Tony’s Air Force career to take off. The United States Air Force Honor Guard actually recruited Hollandsworth right out of boot camp.
“They always look to recruit new people for the honor guard for service in special ceremonies, support missions at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and support for the president and the Joint Chiefs,” he said. “They put me through an interview process where I was tested in physical fitness and took part in personality evaluations.”
The USAF Honor Guard interviewed over 700 applicants. Only nine of those applicants, including Hollandsworth, were selected. He spent 18 months serving on funeral details at Arlington National Cemetery, was part of the Joint Service Color Team who welcomed the pope to Joint Base Andrews and was also part of the inauguration for President Trump.
In February 2016, Hollandsworth took a new position at the Pentagon where he works for the Secretary of Defense in the Public Affairs Office where he conducts VIP tours of the Pentagon.
“It has been very interesting. I have had the opportunity to meet with people from all over the world,” Hollandsworth said. “Being lower enlisted and being able to work beside our country’s top advisers and leaders has been an amazing experience.”
But he never forgot the Nortons, who inspired him. “I just really wanted to let them know how much they mean to me,” he said. “So, I thought the best way to do it would be to write them a letter.”
It was more than a letter.
“He sent a beautiful letter to us that told us about what he has been doing in Washington, but he also included two of his honor guard uniform badges,” Paul Norton said. “One for both Jennifer and myself. I believe they are only issued three of these badges. That is a big deal. We were honored that he thought that much of his time with us.”
Hollandsworth said the Nortons’ passion for the flag and this country really helped him find that same passion in himself.
“I had definitely heard of The American Legion, but I had no idea what it was,” said Hollandsworth, noting that he is a Legionnaire because of the Nortons. “Paul spent the time to tell me what the Legion was all about and what Legionnaires have done and continue to do for our nation’s veterans. After that, I immediately wanted in”.
Now, Paul Norton is inspired too.
“This young man has revitalized my faith that there are young veterans out there who can bring The American Legion to the next level,” Paul Norton said. “Servicemembers who really care about God, country and changing the lives of our veterans.”
Tim Sproles is the communications director for the Department of Indiana.