Flying the Flag on Veterans Day
Like many Americans who call San Diego home, I was born in the midwest. Growing up in Akron, I could always count on my dad flying our flag on national holidays, out front on the porch next to the door. And I knew our neighbors, or most of them, would be putting their flags out too. You could stand at one end of the street and see the stars and stripes flapping in the breeze all the way to the other end. And you knew the next block would be the same, and the one after that, and so on. When my brothers and I got a little older, we assumed the flag-posting chore. And it was a chore to us -- once the novelty of parading the colors through the house and sticking that aluminum pole into the porch mount wore off. I don't recall Dad ever explaining why we flew it. To us boys, it was just something we did. And we did it every Fourth of July and Labor Day and whatever other holiday got us out of school.
Years later, after I completed a tour of active military duty and my schooling on the G.I. Bill, my wife and I moved into our first house. That was here in San Diego in 1987, long after the Viet Nam conflict had ended, and a few years before the start of the first gulf war. And one of the first purchases for our home was -- you guessed it -- a flag. Some of our neighbors had them, too. When the calendar told me it was a national holiday, I'd put ours out -- if I was able to take time off from work that day, and happened to remember. We didn't give it a lot of thought. It was just something we did.
The first gulf war started about the time I joined the Army Reserve. Many of my fellow soldiers nationwide who served in the region during and after the war would not return whole, or at all. After that, I became more conscientious about flying the flag on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. And after 9-11 changed all of us, I never missed one of those two days. I've never felt compelled to display the flag on all the other national holidays. After all, our presidents past and present receive plenty of honors already. And flying the flag on Flag Day to celebrate our national symbol is all good and fine. But flying it to honor those who have answered their country's call means much more to me. Although it is a simple gesture and costs little, it carries deep meaning for those who have served, even more for individuals and families who have suffered great loss for such service. Profound meaning. Flying the flag on Veterans Day and Memorial Day is no longer just something I do.
Naturally, when we moved into our current home 15 years ago, one of my first purchases was a new flag and mount. As our careers have progressed, my wife and I have been blessed to be able to move into successively nicer houses in better neighborhoods. Our current home is in a lovely new development in the south bay. Many of our neighbors are professionals. Judging by their cars and the real estate prices around here, I'd say all have done reasonably well for themselves. And America has done well by them. So I was surprised that first year to see that ours was the only flag on the block. But I assumed the neighbors would get around to putting theirs up after they finished their lawns. After a few more years passed, I started thinking that maybe they were just afraid to damage their nice stucco by screwing in flag mounts. But after 9-11 came and went, I was dismayed that no more flags appeared.
I'm not judging. Okay, I am; I shouldn't, but I can't help it. I was surprised and more than a little saddened by the situation. I'd drive through Coronado and its upscale homes and see Old Glory proudly flying every day. Granted, Coronado has more retired military brass than a mothballed fleet of World War II ships, but I'd see the same thing in working class neighborhoods too, places like where I grew up. Why not in my new neighborhood?
I know that many people honor those who serve in ways other than -- and often more important than -- sticking up a piece of colorfully stitched cloth a couple times a year. And I realize that not everyone attaches the same symbolic meaning to the gesture. So I resigned myself to living in a place where nobody else chose to fly a flag. I mean, that's part of why our military serves, right? To protect our freedom to act on such matters as our personal conscience may dictate? I figured it was my neighbors' right to not fly their nation's flag, whatever their reasons might be.
But something unexpected started happening around here three or four years ago. Flags began sprouting all over the neighborhood. I can't explain it. Maybe the national wounds of the Viet Nam conflict are finally healing as succeeding generations mature. Maybe the continuing parade of broken warriors and flag-draped coffins from our recent adventures abroad has stirred something in our national psyche. Whatever the cause, the flags are spreading around here. Even a couple full-fledged in-the-ground flagpoles -- complete with 24-hour spotlights -- have arisen.
On Veterans' Day this year, I know our family's flag will no longer be flying solo. And I feel pretty good about that.
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