There was a picture the other day of an Iraqi soldier taking down an ISIS flag somewhere in the hinterlands. My first thought was how many times had that flagpole seen different emblems of nations, tribes and religions? From the birth of civilization in Mesopotamia to the somewhat subjective drawing of boundaries by the British after the fall of the Ottoman Empire it has seen its share of claimants. And haven’t we all?
Thus a flag can be an enduring symbol or just the sign of the times. We salute it, sing to it, burn it and drape ourselves in it. It brings a tear to our eyes and hate to our hearts. The Nazi flag of Germany or the Rising Sun of Japan is like waving a red flag in front of the bull for our WWII veterans. The French Tricolor, the British Union Jack, and the Skull and Cross Bones of old brought a sigh of relief or a sudden chill of fear when espied on the high seas in olden times.
In the past few months we have seen our Stars and Stripes raised over Havana once again much to the dismay of some and joy to others. Obama gave a joint press conference in of all places Ho Chi Minh City the other day flanked by the symbols of once warring nations. Someone asked me if it bothered me? Not really. That was a long time ago but then again we have to think of the 55,000 sheets that once draped coffins of fallen heroes. They are in a place of honor in homes all over our fair country and those families might have a different response.
The burial for a vet is impressive and deeply moving in every detail from Taps to the shocking cacophony of anywhere from a 9 to 21 gun salute depending on the rank of the warrior. No one can view the snap to folding of the colors into a tricorne that reminds us all of the hat of colonial times under George Washington or John Paul Jones. Then the presiding officer brings the tightly wrapped remembrance to the loved ones with the following words:
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard ), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service” Over the course of our history this has been replicated probably millions of times and yet it never loses its poignancy.
I think the most beautiful sight is a large mass of red white and blue unfurled from a towering spike in the ground. The bigger the better. As it slowly picks up the breeze and in that steady wavelike motion it seems to breathe life and pride into everyone who catches sight. It’s a combination of an Irish lilt or a classical interlude. Perhaps a modern dance or a Sousa march.
There’s one across the street from my aerie and it is very cool. After 9/11 we all seemed to have Old Glory hanging from an eave of our house, the back window of our car or from buildings or bridges. I guess that is only when bad times happen that we go to the well. Kind of like praying. Times are good. No need for that now.
I am going to keep it short. It is Memorial Day weekend. I think I am going to go to the closet that is rarely opened. There is a box there with the ensign that flew on my Swift Boat. I am going to hang it out on our balcony. I wonder if anyone will notice or ask why? It will be in honor of my Navy buddies and all brothers and sisters in arms. We used to have a Memorial Day parade in Manhasset when I was growing up. I hope they still do. I first marched in 1952 with the St Mary’s Elementary School band. As I think now it was seven years after the end of WWII. The embers burned hot. I hope there is more than ash today.
Have a great weekend. Enjoy the day and your family and fiends It’s great to be an American.
Ted The Great.
In the Brown Water Navy in Viet Nam we are an irreverent lot. In addition to our official burgee on board, some of us flew other colors as well. It might have been a state, team or college insignia. I wrote to the New York Mets, enclosed a check for $25 asking them to send me a Mets flag. Arthur Richman who was head of PR sent back my check saying they had no such thing. However they had contacted a manufacturer in Brooklyn and they would have one made for me. The blue and orange banner arrived at Sea Float with NY METS emblazoned on it. We had fun flying that in the face of Charlie. In addition to all sorts of Mets paraphernalia there was an invitation to Shea Stadium upon our return. I and some other veterans took him up on it and we sat right behind home plate. He came down in the seventh inning with baseballs and pens and whatever. He gave me his card and said he wanted us to be his guest in the Diamond Club after the game. We did. What a night. What a guy. Let’s Go Mets.