We’re making a valiant effort at cleaning out all of the “stuff” in our house since we have sold it and have to sell or otherwise diminish it so we can relocate to Florida and warmer climes for our old age.
In doing so I came across two old flags that were worn, torn and soaked with oil. They had originally been discovered in the “The Tank” which is the affectionate name for the motor home we bought a few years ago. The flags were in one of the lower storage bins where a bottle of motor oil had leaked and caused the damage.
So now, some years later, the two flags were being re-discovered in my garage on a tall shelf. The poor things looked so derelict they reminded me of Johnny Cash and his song, “The Ragged Old Flag.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whmVGRSgAe8 )
I knew that it was time to put these old flags to rest so I decided to have my own little “Flag Burning Ceremony.” Not in any way to degrade the old flags, but to elevate them in my memory. This wasn’t for public consumption, so I wasn’t going to stand on specific ceremony but it was, nonetheless solemn.
I gently tore the flags into narrow strips and held them in order. I had a butane lighter with which to ignite them. First I turned toward the full sized flag that flies from my porch post and gave a smart salute. The words of the Pledge of Allegiance ran through my mind. I lit the torch and ignited the first strip. Then while thinking of the marines in the north of Africa near the turn of the Eighteenth century when Thomas Jefferson sent them to fight the Barbary Pirates I lit the second strip.
The smoke curled up toward my hand and I thought of the War for Independence and and the War of 1812, and how we fought again and the young men who died following those red and white stripes and blue field full of stars.
The third strip was lighted and the Blue and Gray uniforms marched before me in columns! I watched as they battled each other on the fields of Gettysburg. I saw the Blue among the rocks of Little Round Top and the gray marching across the field under Pickett!
Tears came to my eyes!
I could hear Lincoln as he stood in the crowd at Gettysburg, “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty…that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the Earth!”
The next strip was burning when I saw Teddy riding up San Juan Hill in Cuba. Then the start of The Great War! The Trenches, the gas; the death of the World War I. And who can forget The Alamo! And what about the Battle of San Jacinto?
By this time I was well into the halfway point of my little ceremony and carrying a huge lump in my throat. As the next strip ignited the Second World War was raging in the European and Pacific Theaters and I seemed to be a silent bystander watching the endless flights of B-17’s and B-29’s leaving air fields in England on their missions. Some would limp back and barely make land again. Some did not.
Guadalcanal, Saipan, So many – so many! D-Day!
Viet Nam. The war that so many wanted to forget! But we need remember them all! Because our blood – our life – our treasure in young men was spent, regardless of the politics! They are worth our remembering!
And the women! The nurses. Angels of mercy. Korea, Desert Storm, and all the other catchy little names in Iraq and Afghanistan. I remembered them as the last of the strips of my flags burned away.
I remembered a tall young Marine that I saw as I left the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center one day. Both arms mangled; forehead full of scars; blinded by an explosion, probably an IED, – standing there waiting with his Dad. Waiting for someone to bring their car to them.
I wanted to say something! ANYTHING! – I just walked by. I, a fellow veteran, didn’t know what to say!
Now, with smoldering ashes of my two small flags before me and all these memories, – I cried. And as I write, tears well up again!
I vowed it would never happen again! “Thank you for your service” seems so trite! But, If I ever see that young man again, I will stop, and I will say, “Son, thank you! Thank you for your sacrifice for us. I offer our love, our devotion, back to you!”
My old flags are gone now and I’m glad I took the time from my busy day to remember. I love this nation and when I think of how that group of extraordinary gentlemen gathered in the room in Philadelphia in 1787 and labored over what words to use in the writing of the Constitution and I realize that they were Veterans in their own rite!
I marvel, too, at how men of such diminished moral stature, labor just as tenaciously to devise ways to circumvent that same Constitution.
Have you read the Constitution lately?
This Veteran’s Day, read it again, – for the first time. And while you’re reading it, remind yourself that it’s alright to tear up, – and let one of those tears run down your cheek.