Capturing The Flag
The flag, I'm afraid, was in sorry shape. It was wrapped completely and tightly around its pole, sodden with weeks of precipitation and splashed slush, and soiled to the depths with exhaust fumes. It, candidly, looked exactly like one of my worst bath towels, rolled up into a tight cylinder, after having been used to blot up the excess water from defrosting my old and creaky refrigerator.
But, at least when my towels get that way, I immediately pop them into the washer and dryer. This flag had clearly been there for months, and perhaps even since September 12, 2001.
I cast my mind back to the man putting up the flag proudly in defiance of our enemies. Let's call him Lester, a name is easier, and imagine him doing it, and painting the sign, with his son Ted. I can see the puffed chest of satisfaction on Lester, and the pride in the eyes of Ted, as his Dad looked at his flag and his sign and said aloud, or perhaps just thought:
"Now, let's GIT thim AA-rab terrerists, wherever thair hidin'."
I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands....
Does Lester pledge allegiance? In thought, probably, yes, when he thinks about it. In words, hand over heart, probably not that much, though he makes damn sure Ted does it at school. Does Lester give any thought to his flag after having pledged allegiance. Self-evidently not. Does he give any hard thought, really, to the Republic for which it stands. I doubt it.
So many sodden and bedraggled flags grace my town. Huge ones on pizza parlor walls with one corner detached and flapping in the breeze. Tiny ones on white plastic poles stuck on both windows of every used car on the lot, and replaced with Ohio State Buckeye flags in football season. And ones like Lester's. They complement the flags most of us now leave in our jewelry tray. They also complement the sodden and bedraggled yellow ribbons tied around the trees, sometimes whole blocks of them where the spirit was neighborly enough, and the newer, less soiled, magnetic ribbons on the rear latchgate of the car, under the oval "W." sticker on the rear window.
So many..... It makes me want to say to Lester, and to everybody:
"Hey, pal! Ya gotta do more than jes' pledge allegiance to it!!!"
And I don't just want to say this about the flag, but also about the Republic for which it stands.
I have a few flags myself, the one most precious to me being the tri-folded one, commemorating my father's service on Saipan, which I got for free from the Veterans Administration when he died. Most people have probably never thought of why we pledge allegiance to the flag first, and the Republic after. I have, and I know why.
There was a time, the first two years of the Civil War, when men pretended that war was "glorious" and charged into mid-19th century battle fully exposed, as if the war was still being fought with Brown Bess muskets and a few Pennsylvania rifles, instead of six shot revolvers and Sharps repeaters. They dropped like wheat under the combine. You know the names: First Bull Run, Antietam, Shiloh.
The charge was centered around the regimental flag, and to carry that flag was both an honor and a nearly certain death warrant, because it was the biggest, brightest target around and it was a point of honor to try to make the enemy flag go down. The flags that are left look like sieves with all the Mine balls that went through them.
That's why we pledge allegiance to the flag first. Even though, the last two years of the War, and ever since, for that matter, soldiers dug in routinely every night as a protection from surprise attack, and fought battles from their trenches like they did at Cold Harbor.
Lester's flag is in very poor shape. So is the Republic for which it stands. Believe me or not as you choose. It will be easier to not believe me, though, if you shut your eyes to the evidence. After all, odds are that Lester, if you asked him, would support a Constitutional Amendment to make burning the Flag a crime, without once thinking of what is on the pole outside his house. After all, these colors never run.
Once upon a time--I remember it because I was a little boy then--a President named Eisenhower issued an Executive Order specifying how a flag was supposed to be displayed and cared for by any citizen, and all men treated that striped and starred piece of cloth with the same doting dignity that I treat my father's last flag. But, then, most of them had been through hell in places like Anzio or Saipan and knew from experience that both the flag and the Republic warranted that tender loving care. They gave that care to both. And now they are dying fast, too weak to take the flag in or out, largely.
When I was vending in the flea market for grocery money last summer, I saw a fine echo of what I once remembered all men doing. There was one professional vendor there who worked out of this huge red horse trailer, which the rest of us called, behind his back, "The Confederate Navy". For atop his spotless and shipshape trailer were four huge and scrupulously clean Confederate Navy Jacks--the flag we know today as the Stars And Bars.
Would that we took care of the Republic as well these days.
I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, One Nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.