It's exactly 5:20 a.m. on Memorial Day 2015.
I've been wide awake for a solid hour because I want to fly my flag today. It's our first year in a new place--a place made of stone and brick. Hanging a flag holder requires drilling with a special bit. With other renovations, we just haven't gotten around to it. So my mind is working on other proper ways I can fly my flag today. Soon my thoughts are drifting to the American Flag and my interactions with her in my 55 years.
Once the thinking begins, sleeping is hopeless. So I thought I would write about the things I'm thinking.
When I was a kid in 6th grade my teacher was Mrs. Groom. It was 1971 and girls wore dresses to school with knee socks and track shoes. We improved our reading skills through a color-coded curriculum called SRA. Right before we said the Pledge of Allegiance--or maybe after--there was a scripture reading over the loud speaker. It was a huge deal to be chosen to lead the Pledge and read the scripture. We would giggle when a classmate mispronounced the scripture reference. Like the time a boy pronounced "Psalm" as "Possum".
We played Jacks at recess.
We couldn't have candy in school, but with a little fake cough we could have Luden's Cough Drops which we consumed as if they were candy. To get the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, girls did something called the "flex-arm hang". I'm pretty sure the boys did pull-ups instead. We had weekly spelling bees in our classrooms.
We had a janitor named Curly--a big, round older man who didn't have a single hair on his head. Curly was known for handing out silver dollars to random students for good behavior. I still have one of them in my keepsake box.
These are all just random memories.
And there is one more thing I'm remembering today.
It was a huge thing to be chosen to raise the American flag in the morning and lower it when the school day was done. I don't know what the selection process was, I only remember that I felt special when I got to do it. We worked in teams of two or three. In my mind I can picture exactly where the flagpole stood in front of my school. We were taught to carefully unfold the flag in the mornings, being mindful to never let it touch the ground. We were taught that the flag shouldn't fly in the rain, so if it began to rain during the day we would bring her down quickly. We were taught the proper way to fold the flag and we took our job very seriously.
We were all just a bunch of carefree 6th graders whose main goal in life was to play. That's it. Mostly we never thought about freedom at all and we never considered what it would be like not to have it because we didn't even realize we had it. Still, when we raised and lowered that flag we were reverent. We understood that the American flag stood for something, but we couldn't fully grasp what that meant.
The American flag still evokes in me a feeling unlike any other that I have. It's a feeling of pride for sure. Of resolve. Of a patriotism I aspire to.
Sometimes its image can move me to tears or at least cause a very large lump in my throat.
The American flag.
Being raised high as an olympic champion receives a medal. Seeing it soar over bent beams, broken glass and a huge hole in the ground where the World Trade Centers fell. Being raised over every single sporting event I've attended in person or watched on TV. Being raised as I drove through a military base very early one morning. Waving all through my little town on days like today and on every Fourth of July.
All these flags waving and singing in unison "People! We are free!" At least that's the song I hear.
Mom and Dad always flew a flag, and ever since my husband and I have had a home, we've flown an American flag on days commemorating freedom and sacrifice. There were times when we flew the old girl everyday, until the wind caused her to ravel and fray at which time she would retire. We were taught that there were appropriate ways to dispose of the flag and that the Boy Scouts were the ones who would in a ceremonial and honorable fashion, burn her. I always gave my worn out flags to the them until the last time. I asked a scout leader about doing it and she said she didn't know anything about that.
It made me sad. Not because I couldn't do it myself, but because it just seemed like another sign that the American flag is ever so slowly losing her glory.
It's ironic isn't it? Free people tromping upon and burning and trying to ban the very thing that symbolically allows them to do so.
With every sad image, I imagine our freedoms going away a few at a time.
There was a time when the American flag was revered. It stood for something. But then again, there was a time when people stood for something. I'm not talking about social media rants that require no backbone. No. I'm talking about having such a strongly-held conviction about something that death is not too high a price to pay.
Like my family's friend Ron Horn, who died in some humid jungle far away from his family. It was 1968 and he carried the weight of my freedom and yours on his shoulders. And he didn't even know you. He was 30. I was only 8. I only have a few recollections of him. One of him sitting on our kitchen floor playing Jacks with us kids. I remember his pretty wife Barbara with her black hair always fixed just perfectly. Few can understand the heart of a patriot like Ron. I always think about him on this day because he's the only person I've known in my whole life who died in battle. Recently I searched for information on him and his service and found this:
“Ronald Horn re-entered the Army while working for Shell Oil Company in Eunice, New Mexico and volunteered for Vietnam. He had served three years, jump qualified and had been a member of the 101st at Fort Campbell. A graduate of The University of the Americas in Mexico City and a native of Andrews, Texas. He was a poet and a true patriot. He was killed attempting to retrieve ammunition from a downed helicopter in order to help save his buddies. He was awarded the Silver Star.”
I also read a tribute written by Ron’s daughter. I remember her as a little baby.
“I miss you. I always will. I will always feel like there’s something missing in my life. I’m constantly looking for something that I will never find. I am a child of war,” she wrote.
And so the soldiers aren't the only casualties.
I hope I can find a way to fly my flag today. But even if I can't, I'll look at all the other flying flags and remember Ron and his family, who all made sacrifices I can’t begin to comprehend. I'll remember—and hope that as our soldiers are daily willing to sacrifice, that we--all Americans in support of our soldiers--can become brave patriots once again.
You’re a grand ‘ole flag, you’re a high-flying flag.
And forever in peace may you wave.