WHAT IT MEANS TO ME TO BE AN AMERICAN
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Iíve written a lot of articles for various magazines and periodicals, but seldom have I been ask to write something just for me. To write whatís in my heart and to express opinions that are uniquely my own. Well, someone asked me to write what it meant to me to be an American and that leaves the door open a bit.
Some of the first memories I had as a child were of attending baseball games in St. Louis. Ah, Stan the Man and Bob Gibson. The sight of a field so green it hurt my eyes and of people so famous I had only heard them on the radio. The sounds of the crowd and the hawkers selling hotdogs and beer. But one of the sights that truly made an impression on me was the sight of thousands of people standing and singing the National Anthem and of the giant American flag flying over the field. What a sight. I remember my father standing and taking off his hat and sometimes, if I looked real close, I would see tears in his eyes that I didnít understand. He had not been home that long, from someplace called Korea.
Later, as I grew up, I would stand in our field and look at row upon row of alfalfa and a sky blue and white with clouds. I would bend over and pick up a hand full of dirt and rub it on my face just to smell the freshness of it. Sometimes I would lie in the grass and listen to the sounds of the wind and birds and if I listened very close, I could hear the sound of our flag, which flew everyday of the year, flapping in the breeze. I can still hear that sound today.
As I grew older, and was serving in the Marine Corp, I would marvel at the giant flag that seemed to be the center of the whole base. Every morning and ever evening, all things would stop and everyone would turn in the direction of that flag and salute. At night I could hear the clanging of the flag rope as it beat against the pole. Later on when our young people were being unloaded from the back of a transport plane in boxes, that same flag covered them. It seemed that flag was everywhere.
Still later, when I returned home, that flag covered the casket of my father as he attended his last muster. The flag seemed to droop over the sides and hug the body of my father, sort of like a father would hug his child. When they folded that flag, oh so neatly, I felt that the flag was standing at attention, in a triangle, representing God, Country and Honor. That flag rests today in a position of pride above my fatherís war medals.
When I had children of my own, we attended the same ballgames at the same ballparks as I had as a child. People still stand for the Anthem and the flags still fly. Only now it seems that the tears flowing are mine. This I donít understand. I only know that if someone sings something other than the National Anthem or if they intentionally mangle the signing of it, I simply get up and leave. I know I will not be a part of something that is not, to me, American. Other people can do as they please. A soldier or Sailor somewhere has died for that privilege for them. I only hope they remember that.
Now, in my declining years, I take comfort from that flag flying over the VA Hospital. I use to lay in that hospital bed at night and listen to it flap in the wind. In that sound would be the sounds of my life. Bookmarks of good times and very bad times but still times that will remain with me forever.
Now, while that flag flies from my own home, I sometimes stop and just look and listen to it talk. It seems to be saying, yes, someday soon I will cover you also. I will stand at attention in a triangle as I watch them lower another patriot into the fresh earth. I will cover you and hug you close.
You might understand now why some of us get upset when someone burns this flag or says itís just a piece of cloth, only a symbol that can be turned into a political basketball. To me, and to many others I know, this flag means much more than that. Itís like God has taken a piece of his cloak and given it to us for comfort, protection and safekeeping.
When I see a flag, it means dead brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers that are making that last trip home. When I see a flag, it means God and Country, duty and honor. It means ancestors that have fought and died. It means all the wars and ďpolice actionsĒ where our soldiers have suffered. It means home. And most of all it means just being an American.