Before you start reading, understand this is not a political column. Everyone has an opinion on professional athletes choosing to use the playing of our National Anthem as a forum to protest social injustices.
Of course, it is every American’s right to protest what they want, when they want, in whatever form they choose. Even the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled disrespecting the flag is no longer punishable by law. People are within their rights to disrespect the flag, or choose the playing of our National Anthem as the time and place to protest, but that doesn’t make it right.
My generation was taught the basics of flag etiquette at a very young age. We learned that our military fought and died for that flag. But those brave men and women didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice for a piece of cloth, they made that sacrifice for what it represents.
My brother Tony has been involved with the Boy Scouts since my nephews were little and both achieved the highest honor, Eagle Scout. Still involved in scouting, Tony was preparing the annual presentation about flag etiquette when we got to talking about what the flag represents.
“The flag is thought of as a trooper, a comrade, a soldier,” he told me. “It’s to be honored and respected. It’s a living thing that should always be properly displayed and cared for. In battle, no one is ever left behind. You certainly wouldn’t leave your flag behind to be captured by the enemy. You don’t let it touch the ground, you don’t sit on it and when displaying it, there is a right and wrong way. When it becomes tattered and no longer fitting for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified, honored fashion.”
Did you know the flag is considered an officer in the military, hence saluted every morning? It should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. It represents a living country and therefore is considered a living thing. When displaying a flag pin on your clothing, it is always displayed on the left side, just over your heart.
The flag is presented to the surviving family of anyone who has served in the military, but it’s not just handed to the widow. It is slowly and carefully folded into a triangle, honoring the tri-cornered hats worn by the soldiers during the Revolutionary War. When folded, the red and white stripes are wrapped in blue to symbolize nightfall.
He reminded me that the flag itself is not what you are fighting for, it’s what the flag represents. “If you were trapped in a foxhole, you might take one last look at a picture of your wife and kids before you went out to continue the fight,” he said. “You are not fighting for that picture, you’re fighting for what that picture represents.”
The flag is a symbol to the rest of the world of what the United States represents: the field of blue for honor, white for purity and red for the blood we shed. World War II veterans overseas often described seeing our flag flying at a compound, knowing they were at home. It gave them sanctuary, it gave them peace.
This past June 14, we celebrated the 240th anniversary of adopting the stars and stripes as a symbol of our nation. We may be of diverse backgrounds, races or religions, but we come together for one common good, our country.
In 1814, Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which was adopted as The National Anthem more than 100 years later. As a lawyer during the War of 1812, he rowed into the Baltimore harbor, advancing on the British warship Minden. Traveling with only a flag of truce and a letter from President James Madison, Key brokered the release of a prisoner on the ship, his friend Dr. Beanes. However, the men were detained onboard, as the ship was preparing to attack Fort McHenry.
During the bombardment, Key observed the stars and stripes flying over the fort until darkness fell, revealing only the fort returning fire back at the British, proving that they had not surrendered. When daylight returned, so did the flag, motivating him to jot down the inspiring opening words: “O say, can you see by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?”
So, the next time you’re at a ballgame, or any event where you are asked to rise from your seat, remove your hat and join in the singing of The National Anthem, make the right choice for the right reason. And when you encounter a veteran this weekend (or anytime), shake their hand and thank them for their service.