Respecting the American Flag
I’d never seen a Purple Heart before yesterday. At least, not up close and personal. This Purple Heart was part of a Memorial Day exhibit sponsored by a local historical society and the local church. It was pinned onto the uniform of a World War II soldier. The widow of the soldier was one of the docents. This wasn’t her husband’s uniform, but it was his medal.
Seeing pictures of a Purple Heart medal and actually holding one earned by one who’d sacrificed his life are two different things. Carefully, I took it into my hand, as the widow watched sadly. It was beautiful and heavy. Such a thing should be heavy. It should weigh in your hand and on your heart, so you don’t take the sacrifice lightly. The ivory silhouette of George Washington gleamed in the shady chapel.
We’d just finished the parade. It was a very hot day for a parade, and we four musicians who came into the chapel to see the exhibit were sweating profusely. Still, it was a small sacrifice to make to honor the soldiers of various wars, from the Revolution to World War II. In past years, I used to make a tour of this church’s extraordinary cemetery, noting how far back the gravestones dated.
As we left the chapel to cross the blocked off main street to return to our cars, the local high school band began playing the Star Spangled Banner. My two remaining companions continued on. One, our bass drum, has a severe hearing problem and probably didn’t realize they were playing. The other, ten years older at 75, probably wanted to ignore it. He suffers from gout and his feet were undoubtedly hurting. Still, I hissed at them, “Guys! Guys!! GUYS!!” The 75 year-old stopped.
“I think we’d better stop for the National Anthem,” he said, and removing his hat, exposed his head to the blazing sun. The bass drummer also stopped. We stopped, but onlookers just kept on going, even when we gave them rather pointed looks. They’d been sitting in the shade for the entire parade. They’d had cool drinks and were wearing summer clothing. I’d already removed my uniform shirt; my tee shirt was drenched. The bass drummer had removed his uniform shirt. He’d had both his knees broken in a motorcycle accident years ago, when a drunk driver t-boned him on his ride. Our friend the, eupher, was still completely stuffed in his uniform. Yet, even though we’d marched about two miles and were tired, we stopped.
There’s no law that says you have to stop for the Star Spangled Banner, remove your hat, or hold your hand over your heart for the Pledge. It’s more a matter of patriotic custom. If the onlookers, in their hurry to get home to their pools and their barbecues, had bothered to visit the exhibit and held the Purple Heart in their hands, perhaps they would not have turned their backs on the flag ceremony.
At the Battle of Monmouth, it was 104 degrees. On the Bataan Death March, if you stopped to wipe the sweat from your brow, or if you fell down, the Japanese soldiers shot you. At the Battle of Iwo Jima, ironically, standing up was a certain death sentence. Funny that we didn’t learn our lessons about Iwo Jima in Viet Nam. I watched We Were Soldiers for the first time this weekend and it came as a completely surprise to our Army that the Viet Cong had tunneled right underneath their encampments. Ah, the young always know it all.
The young have the least amount of discipline and it takes the full four years of high school marching band to teach young marchers the courage to face all kinds of weather (and be prepared for the heat).
The kid Glenn Beck referred to on his radio program this morning apparently was a runner, not a marcher. He didn’t stand up because he was tired, his mother says. Our band often plays at the local fireman’s home. When we play the National Anthem, the fireman are told they’re excused from standing up. Most of them are bedridden and hardly even know where they are. But there are always a few firemen who aren’t quite so elderly who struggle up anyway.
They don’t stand up because they “have to”. They stand up for the flag and the national anthem because they know it’s their duty and their honor. No matter how heavy their physical burdens, they know the Purple Heart is heavier.