Dedicated to The Greatest Generation
I've had this sitting on my computer for a couple decades now. I can't attribute it to anyone 'cuz I've lost that information. But it's a reminder to all of us to honor every single American who served.
Does Our Flag Make A Difference?
It was a good lesson.
Of course, it was all the more special to me because it was a lesson taught to me by my father. For you see, those lessons are the best kind.
And it was hot. You could feel the heat ricocheting off the concrete as the police cars drove by with sirens screaming. You could tell the people inside the antique cars were suffering, as they drove their pride and joy that was built before air conditioning. And the farmers driving their old tractors.... well, they got a little relief from what breeze there was since they were perched atop their old tractors. Machines that hark back to a simpler time. Machines that once were the envy of farmers for miles around. Machines that had been painstakingly restored to their former glory, and lovingly stored away, only to be brought out for special occasions such as this.
They were followed by the town's only fire truck. The volunteer fire fighters had spent the better part of two days getting her polished and ready for the 4th of July parade. I loved the trucks bright red paint... you could see your face in it! And the shiny silver carriage holding the long ladders with neatly folded white hoses stacked across the back.... it was the neatest vehicle I had ever seen.
Then came the American flag, flanked by an honor guard from our local 45th Artillery Division. Everyone stood and took off their baseball cap or straw cowboy hat. One by one, the right hand of every man, woman and child moved in rhythm, like a wave slowly moving along the crowd that was hugging the street, until each person's right hand rested on their heart.
Several old men in overalls and some young men in uniform saluted with their right hand against their forehead. Old soldiers remembering; new soldiers bound for duty. But we all saluted. It was a ritual everyone knew. And it happened time and time again, year after year, parade after parade.
I was so impressed with the sense of pride the people in my town seemed to have for the flag. But I wondered why it was so important. What made it such a revered, universal icon for the generations before me? I know it was a symbol for America, but why was it more important than, say, our state flag? We never saluted that! Yet I was just as proud to be an Iowan as I was to be an American!
So, later in the day, after the parade, and after my family had enjoyed the wonderful picnic feast of cold chicken, potato salad, baked beans and homemade ice cream down at the city park, I determined to ask my dad why that flag was so important to everyone. And it turned out to be one of those magical moments between a father and his son.
He said, "Son, that flag tells the story of America. Every time I see it, I think of my heritage and my freedoms- of your heritage and freedoms. I think of our house. It is ours. We can own it because of that flag. And I think of our church, and of all the other churches in here in town. We can go to any of them because of that flag.
"I think about where we live. Your mom and & I choose to live here because we were born and raised here, and it has been our family's home for three generations now. We love it here. But we are free to move anytime. And when you grow up, you can live anywhere you want to in America- as long as that flag waves over every state capitol, hangs in every school room, and is carried in every parade.
"It's a reminder that we are all Americans first. We each share a unity as Americans that is first in importance. Every one of us has an undivided allegiance to be Americans first- even before we are Iowans, or Virginians, or Oklahomans, or wherever our place of residence may be. That's what the word United in United States means. We have a special duty to understand and preserve and defend our country first, above everything else."
He went on, "And when I see that flag, I think about my father and my grandfather. You see, to be free was just as important to them. I guess I realize that you and I are free partly because of them. Because they served their country as soldiers when it became necessary to devote their time to an interest greater than themselves. It's the same thing we would do if it were ever required of us. And it will be the same for your children and grandchildren.
"The flag tells of great struggles, of people with such valor and courage that the ideals and honor of our country were dearer to them than their own lives. Think about that! Your grandfather was just such a man. He died when your mom was just three years old. He died fighting in a country he had never heard of, against a people he never knew. And he did it willingly, for America. Think about what that means to be willing to give up your life because the freedom of others is threatened. Surely, there can be no greater virtue!"
And then he made it come home so clearly to me. He said, "Son, there is something that you must also understand about being an American. You cannot be saved by the valor and devotion of your ancestors. Duty is required of every generation. If the times ever comes, the hope of America rests upon your willingness to sacrifice and endure the same as those before you have sacrificed and endured. That's what it means to be an American. That's what it means to be patriotic. That's what it means to revere the great names in our history, and to keep them before every generation in our schools and in our government.
"And that's why we doff our hats and salute the flag. In its threads rests the inspirations of a free people. We are standing on the shoulders of giants."
Looking back on it now, I have to admit that I wasn't sure I understood all that my dad told me that afternoon. But I did know this.... it was all of a sudden a lot more important to me that I was an American.
That was 45 years ago. And I still can't watch a parade without placing my hand on my heart when our flag is carried by.