I am reminded that today, June 14, is Flag Day. So, with Father’s Day right around the corner as well, I thought I’d publish the text of a commentary I did a few years ago on NPR about flags and dads to mark the Fourth of July. (The audio is available here, for those who prefer to listen):
“What we needed, Dad said, was a flagpole.
Not one of those flimsy ones that’s just stuck on the side of the house with their puny little American flag hanging from it. What we needed was a real flagpole, a flagpole tall enough to put a real American flag rippling in the breeze where it belonged, where you had to look up at the sky to see it. And we needed to put that new flagpole right there in the middle of the yard.
So one weekend in the summer of 1967, we brought out the shovels, the concrete, the gravel. Dad and a couple of his buddies dug a deep hole and in a few hours, they had planted themselves a tall flagpole. The next morning, Dad’s color guard — me and my little brother, Alan — reported for instructions:
Raise the flag every morning. Take it down every evening. Fold it in the officially prescribed manner, and never ever allow it to touch the ground. Dad, you see, was a sergeant in the Air Force and he made sure we did it right.
We Americans love our flag. We fly it everywhere from courthouses and churches to car dealerships. We pledge allegiance to it. We sing songs about it. And this year, like every year, politicians are trying to make it a crime to burn the flag.
Personally, I burned a flag or two in my time – not in protest, though. Dad would disown me if I have ever pulled anything like that. But, you see, Dad was a stickler about retiring flags that had faded or torn. And he taught us it would be the height of disrespect to just toss an old flag in the garbage.
Instead, when Old Glory grew too worn to stay in service, we would set it afire in a solemn little backyard ceremony, then dispose of the ashes. Even today, I’m offended every time I see a tattered flag still flying. That kind of desecration, done out of apathy and neglect, bugs me a lot more than flag burning as an act of protest. Flag burners understand its real power as a symbol. Whatever you think about their judgment, they care enough to express their opinion. And apathy and neglect are far greater threats to our freedom than passion.
A couple of years ago, I happened to be in the area of our old house and I drove by to see it. A lot had changed in the neighborhood. But if you can pardon the paraphrase, the visit gave proof to my eyes that our flagpole was still there. I can’t say I was surprised. Dad always built things that last.”
– Jay Bookman