Do you remember the first time you looked at our nation’s flag and felt pride; you know, got goose bumps, lost yourself in the moment, sort of like a hallelujah moment? Maybe I should ask, “Have you ever felt that way about the American flag?” I’m sure you would remember it if you did. I remember when it first happened to me.
Considering how marinated in patriotism I was as a kid, I’m sort of ashamed to admit how old I was when the moment struck me. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in grade school, at every cub scout and boy scout get-together, earning three merit badges for citizenship, an Eagle Scout, visiting cemeteries on Memorial Day, Fourth of July fireworks and all of that, you’d think something would have sunk in long before I was in my mid-twenties.
I was 24, married, had a 3-month old son, and a good job when I won the Army’s draft lottery in the late 60’s. My birthday was drawn out 6th and three weeks later I had my draft notice, one of the worst days of my life. Uncle Sam trained me to be a soils analyst and sent me to Viet Nam as part of an Army Engineer’s Group, but at least I had avoided the infantry. In typical government fashion, in the middle of a war zone the U.S. was building a beautiful asphalt road that was being demolished quicker than it could be built, most of the damage coming from the ungrateful ARVN army using it for their tracked vehicles (tanks and armored personnel carriers). My job was to monitor samples taken from various asphalt plants scattered throughout the middle section of the country.
My first venture outside the base was a mixed bag of emotions; other than the “thrill” of seeing something new, which I could have done without, all of my emotions were on the negative side of the ledger: fear, anxiety, doubt, dread, etc. More questions than answers, that’s for sure. Where? When? Who? Why? and more What-Ifs? than the law allowed.
This first trip was a short one, thankfully, but still took most of the day. Eventually, the longer trips would require my staying over night at a fire base camp, but not this time. One step at a time; I was already a bundle of nerves and my sphincter muscle was tied in a knot. When our little 3/4 ton pick-up rounded the last bend, I could see the base and a wave of relief came over me. As we got closer I could see the American Flag flying over the entrance gate. That was my Ah-Ha moment; it struck me like a two-by-four upside the head. Everything made sense all of a sudden. ” one nation … under God … with liberty and justice for all …” That flag meant American soil, I was home, baby!
We were stopped at the gate to show our credentials … ID’s, orders, passwords, Hawaiian good-luck signs, rabbit’s feet, secret decoder rings, etc. But I didn’t mind, I was never so glad to see an MP in my life; I wanted to give him a big hug … but restrained myself. I tilted my head out the window so I could see Old Glory at the top of the flag pole. She was waving gently in the breeze, proud, undaunted, not a care in the world, like she was waving to ME, “Come on in, son, you’re safe now.”
Geez, that was a great feeling! Happy Memorial Day, and thanks for reading.
Thought for the Day: Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty. John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963)