Special edition: The flag....yours, mine, ours
June 14, 2017
The flag....yours, mine, ours
By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
Today is Flag Day. This day sparked some continuing reflection on my part.
Being a Vietnam-era veteran and having served my country in the U.S. Army for nearly three years during the early ‘70s gives me good reason to speak about an issue that’s been on my mind the last several years.
What I can’t seem to understand has to do with our flag. How it’s displayed, where it’s displayed, and for goodness sake – what in the heck it means to some people.
As a boy growing up in Sheridan County (northwestern Kansas), I attended a two-room school. By the time I reached 10 years of age, one of our responsibilities in the rural Seguin school was to hoist the flag each morning and take it down in the afternoon before we went home.
I recall dreaming about this opportunity. When it really happened, I was sitting on top of the world – what an honor, what a privilege to hoist our revered flag.
Back then, there were a few less stars on Old Glory and a few less flags displayed in communities across Kansas. Courthouses, schools, hotels and summer camps flew the flag, but not car dealers, gas stations, shopping malls, pickup trucks, vegetable stands and the moon if our flag is still there.
As I matured, I was fortunate to spend nearly two years in Germany and traveled throughout Western Europe during my tour of duty. At the 563rd Engineer Battalion headquarters, I was lucky enough to see our American flag waving proudly in the breeze every day.
Ironically, we were billeted in some of the same barracks Hitler housed his troops during World War II. Back then, the Nazi swastika no doubt flew from the same pole that our Stars and Stripes waved when I was there.
Hearing the retreat ceremony each evening was something I never took for granted and looked forward to. I still do today when I’m fortunate to take part in such a revered activity. During retreat, everyone on the base stopped and stood at attention and saluted while taps sounded and the flag was lowered. It was at times like these I felt calm. Sometimes it took me home, or even reminded me why I was there in Germany to help support our NATO allies in the fight against Communism.
What were my comrades in arms thinking about during this same period? I don’t know. We didn’t talk about it but I’m sure their thoughts were similar to mine.
That said, the feelings running through my mind and heart were private, just like the soldier standing next to me. I could make the flag stand for whatever I wanted it to be – after all I was an American. I had freedom of choice. This freedom was given to me by my father, my uncles, my cousins, my grandfather and my great great-great grandfather and all their contemporaries who had served in our armed forces before me during the Korean War, World War II, World War I and the War Between the States.
Yes, as the trumpet sadly sounded and the flag dropped from the sky, I had privacy – a brief period to myself. That was the best part for me because the whole idea about our flag – about patriotism – is that I could decide for myself what it stands for and what it meant to me.
Because there were fewer flags when I was a youngster, it seems to me that we noticed them more. Old Glory proudly waved everywhere on Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day and July 4th. It made you proud to see them waving on front porches, in kids’ hands, on bicycle handlebars, near fireworks stands and in parades. Seeing the flags made you think about what the holiday stood for and maybe what the flag stood for too.
Today, flags are everywhere. Most people sport them someplace on their home. Cars, trucks and cycles speed down our roads and streets, with the red, white and blue whipping from their vehicles.
Our flag is many things to many people. It is a symbol – not of something simple – but of something complicated. The issues and beliefs we all have are vast and varied, some we may believe in while others we may detest.
The Stars and Stripes must remain this way. It can never stand for just one thing or a few things. Our feelings about the flag can never be public and dutiful; instead they must be kept private and free.
We can never make the flag an icon with the same meaning for all of us. It belongs to us all including advertisers, politicians, and patriots. You name it, if you’re a citizen in the United States, the flag can mean whatever you wish.
Old Glory is mine too – to be what I want it to be. This is America, the home of the free.
Brian Safian, John Schlageck and Timothy Ryan
Fort Leonard Wood, MO 1970