I stepped outside my door to feel the sun’s rays on my face. It was another beautiful day. As I took in the view and looked around my neighborhood, I saw American flags flying in front of many of my neighbor’s houses. I loved that flag and all that it represents.
Since I was a little boy starting my first day of school, I have been saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I can still recall everyone standing next to his/her desk, placing hands over hearts and saying the pledge.
“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.”
I must admit that I didn’t know what it all meant, but I was more than proud to say it. Give me that pledge, a daily Bible verse and a little bit of, “Land where my father’s died,” and I am good to go. Throw in cookies, milk and naptime and it doesn’t get any better then that!
With each passing grade, I discovered more and more about that flag and what it means. As history became reality for me, I discovered that freedom isn’t free. I have my own flag now, given to me by the soldiers who buried my father.
When my family arrived for the service, they handed me a sheet of paper revealing to me things I didn’t know about my dad. I asked the person in charge to explain.
“They are medals of merit,” she said. I made a note to remember to look it up later.
As we made our way to the area, we watched in silence as the soldiers removed my father’s casket from the hearse. They moved as a single choreographed unit. No one told us not to speak, but everyone felt as if it would be wrong to do so.
The soldiers rotated the coffin, and it too became a part of this final dance. Somewhere on a lonely hill an officer played taps on the bagpipes. This performance was followed by soldiers firing their rifles into the air.
I took it all in and tried to put it into perspective. I had never imagined or seen such a display of honor. Shots could be heard ringing in the air throughout the valley. The shots weren’t echoes, but rather more soldiers being placed at their threshold down, townsmen of a stiller town.
In our case they paused and read things that I didn’t know regarding my father’s military career. I didn’t know about his roles in battles won or lost. I didn’t know because he never shared with me his fears and his fights. To my shame, I realized that I took his sacrifice and the sacrifice of so many others for granted.
The soldiers removed the flag from my father’s coffin and folded it. What started out as many soldiers slowly became two and finally one. The last soldier folded the flag, marched over to our family and knelt. With his arms outstretched his head bowed he said these words:
“From the President we would like to thank you for your father’s service to our country.”
I never thought of him as anyone or anything more then my dad, but he and the others who fought and died for this nation is what Memorial Day is all about. All my life I have found myself walking with my head in the clouds, but only because I was standing on the shoulders of those who came before me.
This freedom and this democracy carry with it a pro-rated responsibility that we all must bear. We may have our problems, and we aren’t a perfect nation, but I challenge you to pick a better country.
I am reminded of lyrics to an old gospel song, “Give me my flowers, why I yet live.” To those of you who served our country, you shouldn’t have to wait until you are gone to be honored. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!