I fly an American flag from the front of my house. It gets replaced when it is faded or worn. I sing along to the Star Spangled Banner at ball games and other events. I stand when it is played and place my hand over my heart.
I’ve never done anything grand or courageous for my country, just these little things to show respect for those who have sacrificed for her freedom. My meager efforts are an attempt to show my admiration for men and women, in and out of the military, who contributed to our great society.
Army life means that Old Glory is always the center piece of parades, activities, and even cookouts. This is how I was raised. Growing up we had very basic rules. One of the most important was respect for our country’s flag.
At the age of three, I remember playing in a field behind our quarters at Ft. Wolters. At 1700 hours (that’s 5pm civilian time), the fort PA system would blare revelry as a prelude to retiring the flag with the Anthem. As the first note started, we would drop our toys and start running, trying to make it home before the music started.
We would never make the distance and when the first notes of the Anthem started we froze and stood at attention for the duration. Years later I would find out that my mother would watch our daily attempts from the kitchen window and giggle with proud laughter at the respect we had learned at such a tender age.
The Army for all its olive drab is really full of colors. As a boy, I was fascinated with my father’s dress uniform. It had so many ribbons, so many colors. I researched them all. When I discovered the secret meaning of one, I would query my dad as to its deeper meaning. Most of these conversations would go on for quite some time as dad explained, with pride, why this award was given and why it was awarded to him.
Sometimes the conversation was brief and the answer was technical; no history; no story. Only later in life would I discover that there are some things about which even soldiers can not speak. When I came across photos of an old Jeep in one of the family picture albums, I was puzzled. Why so many photos of a beat-up Jeep? That is when I heard the story behind the Purple Heart.
It was a busy Saigon street in April 1966. That Jeep had three people in it other than the driver, my father. As a motorcycle passed, a Vietcong soldier tossed a grenade into the floorboard. My father grabbed the grenade and ejected it from the vehicle. It exploded as it left the window, peppering the Jeep and occupants with shrapnel. Twenty years later, during a routine X-ray, they would find a sliver in my father’s hand that the Army surgeon had missed. Soldiers carry many things and some are the scars of war.
When my old soldier faded away, they honored him with the traditional twenty-one gun salute. The Major handed his widow a tightly folded American flag. His ribbons and medals were carefully displayed in a beautiful case. The flag was framed. Later, my mother gave her husband’s son a worn, stained, folded dollar bill and an unforgettable memory of what it really means to be a soldier.
For this we return to the early 1950s. As my parents returned home from a date one evening, my future mother asked her beau if he had enough gasoline to get home. He wasn’t sure so she gave him one dollar for gas. Back then, one dollar would have bought three gallons. He made it home with no help.
That’s the kind of guy he was, adventurous and resourceful. He folded that dollar bill and kept it close to his heart, until he shipped out for war. On that day, he placed that simple piece of cloth in an envelope with instructions to give it to his son if he failed to return.
He did return and served with honor for a total of 27 years as the guardian of my freedom. My father carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. He carried “the button,: “the football” for five presidents. Most importantly, he carried me on his shoulders and still does.
Soldiers never stop serving. That is the mind of a soldier. Somewhere in Kharkov, Ukraine is a family to whom Barefoot means food, care, and prayer. My old soldier kept serving overseas long after he mothballed his uniform. He went to Ukraine and poor islands off the coast of Honduras to give people food, medicine, and hope.
Soldiers are a breed apart. We would not enjoy our freedoms without their sacrifices. One day of remembrance each year is not enough. When you vote your conscience, cross state lines without papers, go to a grocer that is not state-owned, thank a soldier. Each day you wake up with the freedom to do as you please thank a soldier.
Find a soldier to thank. I have mine.