It's 'Take An American Flag to Work' Day

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Apr 06, 2006 11:21 AM

Read about it, here.

Michelle has an American flag photo gallery up.

I've always liked this painting.

Both of my grandfathers were career military-- one Army and one Air Force. My parents grew up on bases all over the world-- from Tripoli, Libya to Paris to Fayetteville, N.C. They met on an Air Force base in Germany when my dad and my mother's father happened to be stationed at the same place. And, I owe my existence to that little bit of military people-shuffling.

Both of my grandfathers died before I was born. I learned about their war-time exploits only in yellowed newspaper clippings. I saw their faces only under the yellowed cellophane pages of family photo albums-- strong-jawed, young and lithe in their uniforms. I did not know them, but I know they were good men.

And if I ever needed proof of that-- solid, serious, hold-it-in-my-hands proof-- I could find it in the cedar chest in my parents' bedroom. When we were little, my brothers and I would hoist its heavy top to reveal that sharp, woodsy smell and two, small starry triangles-- deep blue, rich red, and brightest white against natty piles of faded blankets.

They were heavy--the thick fabric and careful stitching an offering of craftsmanship for each granddad's lifetime of service. There isn't much that inspires reverence and respect in a 6-year-old, but those flags always did.

When I first saw them, I didn't know that they had lent their weight to the caskets of the grandfathers I had never known. But I traced the stitches with my small fingers, sure that those simple triangles were heavy with history and honor, even when I didn't understand the reasons.

The little triangles made a muffled, clinky rattle when I moved them. If I pressed on them hard enough, I could feel something inside, but I never dared unwrap the present because I knew I could never make it just so again. Later I learned that each flag holds 21 shell casings, collected after seven fellow servicemen saluted each of my granddads with heads and muzzles held high.

After my brothers and I learned how to fold a flag--sometime during their early Boy Scout days--we were allowed to unwrap the triangles and touch the brassy casings inside, watch them clink and roll over the stars and stripes.

I remember I could almost hear three volleys the first time I saw those casings, almost feel the jolt, the hard blink, the held-back tears. I could almost hear the stark salute slide into the mournful beauty of "Taps."

Yes, if I ever needed proof of the kind of men my grandfathers were, it was in a cedar chest in my parents' bedroom. Those heavy triangles sent the message before I could fully understand it; they told of Messerschmitts and 38th Parallels and bombardiers before I knew what those words meant. Later, they allowed me, in some small way, to mourn the passing of heroes I had never known. They are much more than flags.

Wave yours proudly today. It is a shame that some in our own country wish us not to.