On June 14th, I had the privilege of speaking to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars' Flag Day commemoration. It's easy to take for granted our flag, but it remains a powerful symbol. The coffins of our heroic dead soldiers are draped in it. Meetings and sporting events start after pledging our allegiance to this flag and country. It's important to remind ourselves to cherish, protect, and defend it.
What's a flag and the love of country for which it stands? It's stories told. It's the minutemen standing their ground at Concord Bridge. It's the wagons and the men on foot going westward and settlers clearing their new land. It's Lincoln at Gettysburg. Even in times of corruption and disgrace, men and women in every generation have stood up to stand for the old ideals and the old rights we treasure. But it's more recent stories that remind us of our responsibility to keep our flag flying proudly.
It's men like POW Mike Christian who was captured during the Vietnam War and held in the "Hanoi Hilton." Early on the POWs were kept in individual cells, but over time due to the international pressure, they were allowed to share quarters. Mike Christian fashioned a sewing needle out of bamboo and sewed a rough American Flag to the inside of his T-Shirt.
Every morning before the guards arrived, they'd put his T-shirt on the wall and say the pledge of allegiance. When the Vietnamese guards found the shirt, they removed it. Mike was severely beaten. The day he was returned, with his eyes nearly shut from the beating, Mike stayed up all night sewing another flag into another T-shirt. Why? Because he knew how important that flag was to their morale.
It's citizens like outfielder Rick Monday. During America's bicentennial, the Dodgers were playing the Cubs on a Sunday in LA. Between innings, two people ran onto the field carrying an American flag. They unfurled it as if it was a picnic blanket. They knelt beside it, not to pay homage but to douse the flag with lighter fluid. Rick Monday, the Cubs centerfielder and a former Marine Corp Reserve, started to run after them. The wind blew the first match out. The second match was lit, but Rick scooped up the flag before they could ignite it.
As the intruders were taken from the field and without being prompted, people began to sing 'God Bless America.' That stand for freedom and the flag remains one of the 100 Classic Moments in the History of the Game as determined by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It's citizens like John Helton. In 2013 at his home in Atlanta, GA, this WW II veteran faced a fierce battle with his Homeowner's Association over the right to fly the American flag. They had threatened to fine the Heltons $25 a day if they displayed the flag beyond the few days of the year their signed agreement allowed. Fortunately, the Freedom to Fly the American Flag Act of 2005 affirms that homeowners associations can give limitations about how they fly it, but not the fact that they could fly it!
Initially the HOA absolutely refused to listen but when several of the Helton's neighbors began flying American flags, the HOA called an emergency meeting, and residents voted overwhelmingly to allow flags to be flown every day of the year.
I end with lines from "I am the Flag" by Ruth Apperson Rous: "Eternal vigilance is your price of freedom. As you see me silhouetted against the peaceful skies of my country, remind yourself that I am the flag of your country, that I stand for what you are - no more, no less. Guard me well, lest your freedom perish from the earth. Dedicate your lives to those principles for which I stand: 'One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'"
May it be so.