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Athens Display Chronicles the Growth of the Country Through U.S. Flag Designs

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ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) – In Athens, there's a historical display at the Alabama Veterans Museum that brings to life the history of America, through its most recognizable symbol -- the Stars and Stripes.  It's a flag collection that's been 50 years in the making.

"I hope that folks, when they see the display, can be moved to remember the veterans and those forefathers of ours that have made this the great country that it is," said Ronald Pettus, sitting amidst his massive collection.

He started collecting military memorabilia and American flags as a high school history teacher trying to help his students connect with the past.

"I had this idea that I can make history a little more interesting by bringing in some items from the period that i was teaching about," said Pettus.

He chronicled the growth of the country through the designs of the flags.  And he's most proud of one designed by an 11th grade student, named Robert Heft, for a history class project.

"He came up with this wild idea that he would create a flag with 50 stars," said Pettus. "And he did that the night before his project was due, turned it in the next day and the teacher gave him a B-minus on it because he wasn't impressed at all with it."

Pettus loves to tell how the teacher told Heft he would bump up his grade if Heft got the federal government to adopt his flag.

"To make a long story short, the United States adopted his 50-star design," said Pettus.  "Other people had introduced the same design, but his was turned in first."

Pettus says Heft's teacher changed his B-minus to an A, and it's the design of Old Glory we fly to this day.

Pettus also has a Civil War flag with 34 stars, another flag with 38 stars and one with 48 stars.

On this day, Pettus has a specific message he wants his display to communicate:

"We owe so much to veterans that we can't do enough to celebrate what they've done for us."

Pettus flag display will be at the Alabama Veterans Museum, 100 Pryor Street in Athens, through Thursday, July 5th.