Like many Americans who call San Diego home, I was born in the midwest. Growing up, I could always count on Dad flying our family's flag on holidays, out front next to the porch door. And our neighbors would put theirs up too. You could stand at one end of the street and see the stars and stripes flapping all the way to the other end. And 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 -- once the novelty of parading the colors through the house wore off. I don't recall Dad ever explaining why we flew it. To us boys, it was just something we did.
Years later, after I completed a tour of naval duty and my schooling, my wife and I bought our first house. That was here in San Diego in 1987, long after the Viet Nam conflict had ended, and before the first gulf war. And one of the initial 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 holiday, I'd put ours out -- if I happened to remember. I didn't give it a lot of thought. It was just something we did.
The first gulf war started during my Basic Course with the Army Reserve. Many of my fellow soldiers who would serve would not return whole, or at all. I became more conscientious about flying the flag on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. And after 9-11 changed all of us, I never missed one of those two days. I don't feel compelled to display the flag on all the other national holidays. After all, our presidents receive plenty of honors already, and Flag Day just doesn't stir me much. But flying the flag to honor those who have answered their country's call is something else. It's a simple gesture that costs little, but it has meaning for those who have served, more for individuals and families who've suffered great loss for such service. Profound meaning. It says, "we remember."
Flying the flag on Memorial Day and Veterans Day is no longer just something I do.
Naturally, when we moved into our current home 16 years ago, one of my family's first purchases was a new flag mount. As our careers have progressed, my wife and I have been blessed with homes in successively better neighborhoods. Many of our current neighbors are professionals. Based on their cars and the housing prices here, I'd say all have done reasonably well for themselves. And America has done well by them. So I was surprised to see that ours was the only flag on the block. I assumed the neighbors would get around to putting theirs up after they'd finished their lawns. But after 9-11 came and went, I was dismayed when no more flags appeared.
I'm not judging. Okay, I am ... a little; I shouldn't, but I can't help it. I'd drive through Coronado and its upscale homes and see Old Glory proudly flying on every street. 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 areas too, places like where I grew up. Why not in my neighborhood?
I know that people honor those who serve in ways other than -- and often more important than -- sticking up a piece of colorful cloth a couple times a year. And not everyone attaches the same symbolic meaning to the gesture. It was my neighbors' right to not fly their nation's flag -- whatever their reasons. I mean, that's part of why our military serves, right? To protect our personal freedom to act on such matters as our conscience dictates? So I resigned myself to living in a place where others chose not to fly a flag.
But something unexpected started happening around here three or four years ago. I can't explain it, but flags began appearing all over. Maybe the continuing parade of broken warriors and flag-draped coffins from our conflicts abroad has stirred something in our neighborhood 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 sprouted.
On Memorial Day this year, I know our family's flag will no longer be flying solo. And I feel pretty good about that.
*This article is an updated repost, by request.
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