Last month I was invited by Woodmen Life to speak at their commemoration of the 15th anniversary of 9/11. The flag presentation at the Bartow Youth Complex was one of many presentations that include the construction and cost of a flag pole and plaque.
During a formal presentation it takes more than one person to present a flag. I asked for all veterans in the audience to come forward. I needed help, help from my fellow veterans to present this flag properly. This group of veterans unfurled the flag, opening it to the wind. With a salute the flag was raised to the top of the pole and then lowered halfway. Half mast, the condition marking a time of despair and grief with honor over lost souls.
The wind picked up the flag and the blue field faced the veterans, who were standing together with honor. The patriotism of those attending glowed as we all took the time to present this offering from Woodmen Life.
In 2001, the tragedy brought unity, but since then time has allowed for divisive issues to surface. Remember the large flags that were flown then, to honor those who lost their lives that day, particularly the first responders. Perhaps that memory is no longer fresh in the public’s mind. Our nation’s attitude has changed in recent years, the disaster of the financial markets is becoming history and the strength of the American people is shining through. We are in an emotional recovery from watching the devastation of homes being foreclosed, people out of work and fear from attacks.
Recently some athletes have used the performance of our national anthem to make a personal statement. Most Americans face the flag, remove their hats and place the right hand over their heart, while members of the armed forces salute the flag. It is different for those who have served, for those of us who have stood, ducked to cover, took fire and returned fire under conditions that most Americans will hopefully never experience.
Our country’s flag has not lost its meaning to our men and women in uniform. The flag is part of our uniform. When I served in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1992, I could not help but notice the flag patch on my uniform was different from the patches worn at the time by public services and other groups. Normally the blue field is on the left with the bars facing right. However, during war the blue field is on the right. I asked about this and the answer makes sense and stirs my blood. The blue field is attached to the flag pole and when charging into battle the blue field leads. This emblem on our uniforms served to remind us that each of us was charging into harm’s way.
Our country has been at war since 1992. Commanders realize that although public opinion runs warm and cold, our mission and our commitment to complete it does not waiver. Neither does our concern for the men and women we must lead.
As a nation, Americans stand for many things. We stand together when needed, and we fight among each other often. Yet our flag is neutral. We do many things together under Old Glory, even protest, it’s still the stars and stripes. Civilians are welcome to not stand during pledge of allegiance and national anthem, as an exercise of their freedom of speech and expression. They’re allowed to do that under the Constitution, which those in uniform who serve have sworn to defend and serve.
The flag itself is neutral, but a majority of Americans look to it with reverence because of what it reminds us of. As leaders we recognize that an individual’s protest does not affect our own patriotism. Our mission is elsewhere. Events such as the September 11 presentation by Woodmen Life remind us that respect for the flag is respect for our nation.