This Veterans Day, an actual veteran will grace the campus of Ranchero Middle School, at least in spirit.

On Wednesday, Nov. 4, principal Cindy Costa had the burial flag that the Navy had draped over her father's coffin hoisted up the school's flagpole.

Costa's father, William, had achieved the rank of Chief Quartermaster by the time he retired after 21 years in the Navy.

"My dad was a first-generation American," Costa said Wednesday. "His father was from Italy.

Costa's the daughter of two first-generation Americans, in fact: Her mother's family were Norwegian immigrants.

"When he was 17, he enlisted."

At the height of World War II, Costa served aboard the USS Cape Gloucester, which launched air patrols fighting Japanese kamikazes off the coast of Okinawa. He was later stationed in Washington, Alameda and San Diego, where Costa and her siblings spent their elementary school days.

"He was 38 when he retired and had another career as a paint store manager and then in real estate," she said.

The family moved to San Dimas after his retirement, but her days in San Diego are still clear to her.

"Every time the ships would come in, we would all go down there with the families," she said. And her memories are color-coded by season. "I remember he had the tan uniform, the white uniform, the blue uniform."

But he didn't wear another common symbol of Navy life.

"I asked why he didn't get a tattoo," she said. "'Because they hurt!'"

William wasn't followed into the military by his children: All three of his daughters became educators. That was OK with him, Costa said.

"Education was revered in our house," she said. "The last few years in San Diego, he was an instructor."

And now, the two worlds -- the Navy and education -- are united once more with William's burial flag waving outside the school.

"They presented it to my mom," Costa said. "When I worked at Sultana [High School], a woman came in with her flag and said 'I have no use for it,'" and asked the school to fly it in her husband's memory.

And the flag presents a teachable moment for staff at the school.

"You want the kids to understand the holidays," Costa said. Veterans Day marks the end of World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. "My dad was a retired Navy person. ... He was proud of his country. Even without his tattoos."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/HesperiaStar.