In search of patriotism

Posted: Jun 28, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On Feb. 23, 1945, after four fierce days of battle, five U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raised an American flag atop Mount Suribachi on the vital Pacific island of Iwo Jima. The picture of those six Americans raising that flag won photographer Joe Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize and became the most reproduced photograph in history. A few months later, on Aug. 14, 1945, a torn and tattered flag that had flown over Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was raised over 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., to mark the end of World War II. On May 25, 1961, Jack Kennedy told a joint session of Congress that before the decade ended, the United States should land a man on the moon and return him "safely to the earth." On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong placed an American flag on the lunar surface to remind the world that it was American ingenuity, bravery, resourcefulness and skill that made it possible. Over the years, American explorers have planted Old Glory at the North Pole, the South Pole, Mount Everest and even in the Marianas Trench, the deepest spot on earth, to celebrate their achievements and mark their victories. Last December, when I was aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) in the Arabian Sea for FOX News, Capt. Richard O'Hanlon proudly displayed what he called "a national treasure" -- the "Ground Zero Flag" -- which flew over the World Trade Center when it was attacked on Sept. 11. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit later raised that same tattered banner over their Advanced Operating Base near Kandahar, Afghanistan, 450 miles inside hostile territory. Since the first war of the 21st century began, each of the 45 gun-metal gray caskets containing the bodies of Americans killed in action or by accident have been draped with the Stars and Stripes as they arrived in solemn ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. America's flag is deemed by every U.S. soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and guardsman to be an appropriate recognition of a fallen comrade's valor, honor, allegiance and self-sacrifice. Ever since Francis Bellamy published the first version on Sept. 8, 1892, in "The Youth's Companion," America's children have been reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance" to that same flag. "The Pledge," was ratified by Congress in 1942 and, in 1954, at the instigation of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Congress added the words "under God." When he signed the legislation, the man who led the D-Day invasion of Normandy wrote that the two additional words would reaffirm religious faith in America and "strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource. ..." He added, "millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and people to the Almighty." The man who guided allied forces against Hitler's Third Reich was wrong. Eisenhower never anticipated a time such as this -- when faith and fealty are mocked and denigrated. Forget the 3,056 dead on 9-11. Ignore the tens of thousands of young Americans, wearing American flags on their sleeves while serving in harm's way. This is a new, more "enlightened" era. Today, famous, wealthy Hollywood figures like Robert Altman declare the American flag "a joke." The American Library Association refuses to help the FBI track down terrorists. On the eve of the 226th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Canadian-born news anchor Peter Jennings determines that country music star Toby Keith's unabashedly patriotic hit new single, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," has inappropriate "lyric content" for ABC's Fourth of July special. Country music legend Charlie Daniels was told by PBS that his new song, "The Last Fallen Hero," an ode to those who died on 9-11 and in Afghanistan, couldn't be performed on the taxpayer subsidized network's "Capitol Fourth" show. And now we have the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruling that because of those two words -- "under God" -- it is unconstitutional to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. The rich, famous media elites, educational intelligentsia and now the courts are perverting patriotism. And as is so often the case, they are out of touch with most Americans. On my radio show, Charlie Daniels said the court's decision was enough to make him "bite through ten-penny nails." Toby Keith told my audience "those judges are just plain wrong," and so are those who banned "the song I wrote for my soldier-father." As proof, he cited the reaction his music inspired "at the Naval Academy and from the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines I've played for at the Pentagon and overseas." Both performers have taken time from profitable tours to entertain our Armed Forces with the USO. That's more than can be said for the network bigwigs who banned their Fourth of July performances -- or Robert Altman, or anyone from American Library Association, or any of the judges from the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Sadly, all of this was forecast by another television entertainer more than three decades ago. On Jan. 14, 1969, Red Skelton, in words that would never make it on ABC or PBS today, closed a tribute to Mr. Laswell, his public school teacher who taught him the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance, with the following: "Since I was a small boy, two states have been added to our country and two words have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance -- 'under God.' Wouldn't it be a pity if someone said, 'That is a prayer,' and that would be banned from schools, too?" Yes, that would be a pity. Happy 226th Independence Day.