Three Flags


This was supposed to have been posted on Memorial Day. Sorry for the delay.
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There are three United States flags in my house. One flies out on the porch on special days like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. The other two flags are the reasons why we have Memorial Day.

These two flags were given to my wife and my grandmother from a grateful nation. Ann received her flag upon the death of her late husband; my grandmother received her flag when my grandfather died. Even though both died in peacetime, the flags were given for service to the United States as an enlisted man and an officer. George Walker served as an Army medic and saw some of the bloodiest combat in France following D-Day; Walter L. Mitchell, Sr. saw combat in World War I and would have lead a regiment onto Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 had medical problems not prevented him from further service.

The flags that were given to our families upon their deaths are the flags that are the reason for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July and they have a place of honor in our home. Yet, we are more apt to think of Memorial Day as the start of the summer season and not as reason for the commemoration of those who died for our freedom.

It bothers me that on a day when there are parades and speeches, we forget why we have this day. In fact, we forget what it is that the flag stands for. We seem to think that if you wave a flag with enough vigor and you wear some sort of flag on your lapel or collar, then you are a patriot. And we all know that patriots do not criticize the President or the administration.

When my generation was protesting the Viet Nam War, we often heard supporters of the Administration, and thus the war, proclaim, “My country, right or wrong.” This quote was taken from a speech by Carl Schurz, a United States Senator, on February 29, 1872. But it is only part of the quote. What Senator Schurz said, as reported in The Congressional Globe was “The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, ‘My country, right or wrong.’ In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” (1)

While this has not been heard lately, the sentiments have been expressed. How many flags were printed by newspapers across the country following 9/11/2001 so that people could paste them in their windows? How many flags were attached to car antennas? How many enterprising companies figured out that a way to make some money was to sell ways of flying the flag from the roof of your car when you did not have a radio antenna?

But what happens when the flag that was pasted in the window begins to fade or the flag that flew constantly in the air day after day begins to fade and tear? Are they taken down and replaced? From what I have seen, the answer is no, they are not. You look around and you see tattered and torn flags or faded and pale versions of the original flags. How can this be a sign of patriotism or pride?

And politicians curry favor from the voters by calling for an anti-flag burning amendment. Let’s not get into an argument about whether flag burning is free speech or not; but if we are going to ban flag burning, what are we going to do about the various clothing items and other garish items that feature the “star-spangled banner” motif? Shouldn’t there be some sort of patriotic good taste legislation when it comes to the flag?

We gladly wave the flag when we send our troops off to war but we say nothing when our veterans come home sick, wounded, maimed, or dead. It is almost as if we are afraid to think about the consequences of war. We like celebrations; we like the feeling that comes with celebration. And we tend to hide the defeats or the “bad news”. If there is no victory, then there is no celebration. We celebrate the homecoming with songs like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”

When Johnny comes marching home again

When Johnny comes marching home again,
Hurrah! Hurrah!

We’ll give him a hearty welcome then,
Hurrah! Hurrah!

The men will cheer, the boys will shout,
The ladies they will all turn out,

And we’ll all feel gay
When Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day,
Hurrah! Hurrah!

Their choicest treasures then display,
Hurrah! Hurrah!

And let each one perform some part
To fill with joy the warrior’s heart,

And we’ll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.

But we forget that in order to gain the right to celebrate, sacrifices have to be made. The writer of the first of the celebratory songs took the tune from an Irish folk tune, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye”, a tune with a much darker side.

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo

With your drums and guns and guns and drums,
The enemy nearly slew ye

Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer
Johnny I hardly knew ye

Where are your eyes that were so mild, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your eyes that were so mild, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your eyes that were so mild?
When my heart you so beguiled

Why did ye run from me and the child?
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your legs that used to run?
When you went for to carry a gun

Indeed your dancing days are done
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye

Ye haven’t an arm; ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo

Ye haven’t an arm; ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo

Ye haven’t an arm, he haven’t a leg,
You’re an armless, boneless, chickenless egg

You’ll have to put with a bowl out to beg
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again,

But they never will take our sons again

No they never will take our sons again

Johnny I’m swearing to ye (2)

When will we start to honor the flag that is given to spouses, parents, or children? When will we honor the call to support our troops in the field by supporting them when they come home? We gladly let the President and Congress spend money for the war industry but we say nothing when the Veterans Administration’s budget is slashed and services are cut.

The flag is not the country; like the country, the flag has changed over the years. But the values of this country are still the same. We truly believe in the concept that all men (and here we will use the term to represent everyone, not just those who owned property) are created equal; we truly believe in the idea that we all have the right to seek a life of our own, to have liberty, and to pursue happiness.

Being a patriot does not mean that we stand on the street corner waving an American flag and condemning those who refuse to do the same; being a patriot means standing for the values and ideals that this country was founded upon. Being a patriot does not mean that we go to war at the first opportunity; being a patriot means going to war only as a last option and then it is only done reluctantly.

Being a patriot means working for the values of peace, freedom, and justice long before war becomes an option. In a world where terrorism takes on many faces, it still is an outcome of poverty, oppression, greed and ignorance. Being a patriot means working against the causes of terror, not add to them.

There are countless flags like the two that we have. We were lucky that our loved ones died in peace; others do not have that luxury. Those families who received a flag with the grateful thanks of this country because their son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister died in the service of this country know that their loved ones did not ask to die; they would have probably chosen otherwise.



(1)  From http://www.barteby.com/73/1641.html; http://www.trivia-library.com/b/origins-of-sayings-our-country-right-or-wrong.htm indicates that Stephen Decatur was the author of the original saying, “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.” No exact date was given but the year 1816 was indicated. These notes indicated that Senator Schurz paraphrased Decatur.

(2) From http://www.instantknowledgenews.com/johnny.htm

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