The man behind the mast

Every morning at dawn, John Bryant raises the U.S. flag at Lincoln High School. This methodical task must be done day in, day out, everyday of the the year, no matter the weather or holiday.

Bryant takes on this task with pride. He walks into the school before students or staff to the main office where the flag is folded and kept overnight. He then walks to the front of the school and hooks the colors on to the flagpole and raises it. He does this all before few if any of the staff and  students of Lincoln arrive.

Bryant starts his shift as the school’s head custodian every day at 5 a.m. Raising the flag is one of his first tasks, then he spends his day doing everything from taking out the trash to paperwork and general maintenance.

Raising the flag means more to Bryant than anyone knows. It’s “everything this country stands for, freedom.” This notion of freedom earned a new sort of importance to him when he joined the military at age 17.

After switching from school to school as his family moved around, he decided to start a new chapter in his life and he spent the next three years serving in the Marines. He enlisted in the infantry during the Vietnam War and then moved to the special forces. He then returned to the United States and attended Marine engineer school.

Bryant visited many countries that did not enjoy the freedom to speak their minds or have their own beliefs while in the service, he said. This is when he developed the pride he has now for the United States. He was honorably discharged from active duty in 1978 as just a 20-year-old.

After being discharged, he joined the reserves and  worked as a combat engineer and ribbon bridge engineer for 28 years. He fixed vehicles, then loaded them onto a platoon to transport them. He left the reserves in 2006.

In his civilian life he has worked in Portland doing anything from collecting garbage to working in the shipyards. He has four kids and still enjoys his job. He plans to be with us at Lincoln High for the next 10 years.

He’s an everyday reminder to the students of Lincoln how blessed we really are to be free. And as the country honored the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces on Veterans Day on Wednesday, Bryant went about his solitary morning duty – proudly raising the U.S. flag.