It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, and who allows the protester to burn the flag.

~~~Author Unknown

My View On The Flag

The attacks on our nation that came on September 11, 2001, have brought about a resurgence in patriotism and loud calls for legislation to force schoolchildren to say the Pledge of Allegiance or to prohibit burning of the American flag. I, for one, believe those ideas are not what America is about.

I believe people should have the right to not say a Pledge of Allegiance to a symbol when that pledge has words linking that symbol to a god they do not believe in or have faith in. I believe people should have the right to burn the flag.

I also believe people should be taught what that flag stands for early starting in grade school. I believe school children should hear about the sacrifices people have made to keep that flag flying proudly. If these children are not unfeeling and heartless, they will grow up to have respect enough for the flag and those that died defending what it stands for that they would never think of burning it.

Respect is something earned. Old Glory has earned respect, but the children must be taught why she has earned it. Legislating respect is no solution; it is taking the lazy route to an end goal. Forcing displays of respect upon someone accomplishes nothing permanent. Four or five generations from now, those legislators may decide that the flag is irrelevant because they never learned what it stood for; it was just something they were forced to perform meaningless rituals over.

It was former soldiers who taught me about the flag, along with respect for the symbol of The United States. Every year when I was in grade school, local Veterans organizations sponsored an assembly that was all about the flag. Weeks before the acutal date, our homeroom teacher would announce an essay contest. The subject was always something patriotic like “What America Means To Me” or “What The Flag Means To Me”. There was always a first, second, and third prize to be awarded at the “Patriotic Assembly”. We looked forward to that.

When the assembly came, all of the local Veterans organizations were represented. The veterans talked about the flag; we learned about Francis Scott Key and “The Star Spangled Banner. We learned about Betsy Ross. We learned about the flag raising at Iwo Jima. We learned about the stars on the flag and what they represented. We learned what the stripes represented. We learned flag etiquette: how to display the flag; how to properly fold the flag; how to dispose of it when the time came.

The “old veterans” (they seemed old to grade school children) told us war stories about how men they were close to died. They told us why they believed they had to go to war. Mothers of the war-dead told us how their sons came home in flag-draped coffins. They showed us the folded flags that had covered the coffins of their beloved sons.

Afterwards, we were served punch and cake that had been decorated in red, white, and blue to look like an American flag. Clowns tossed candies for the children to catch. While we were enjoying our cake and candy, the Veterans and mothers of the war dead hung around answering any questions we had about their uniforms, medals, or whatever else we were curious about.

I don’t know if Veterans organizations in other communities did this or if they do now. If they don’t, it’s too bad. What I heard and what I learned as a young girl at those assemblies has stuck with me all my life. Although I will not say the Pledge of Allegiance because of the phrase “under god” in it, I respect the flag. Although most times I disagree strongly with my government, I would never burn the flag. I could never dishonor those who died for it; I could never dishonor those “old vets” who took the time to come to my school and teach me all about Old Glory.

~~~~Beverly McCarty