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Our Flag Makes A Difference!

Robert G. Davis

A father's words help a son understand what it means to be an American.

It was a good lesson.

Of course, it was all the more special to me because it was a lesson taught by my father. Those are the best kind.

And it was hot. You could feel the heat ricocheting off the concrete as the police cars drove by with sirens screaming. They were followed by our town’s only fire truck. The volunteer fire fighters had spent the better part of two days getting her polished and ready for the 4th of July parade. I loved the truck’s bright red paint. You could see your face in it. And the silver carriage holding the long ladders with neatly folded white hose stacked across the back, it was the neatest vehicle I had ever seen.

Then came the American flag, flanked by an honor guard from our local 45th Artillery Division. Everyone stood and took off their baseball caps or straw cowboy hats. One by one, the right hand of every man, woman, and child moved in rhythm, like a wave slowly moving along the crowd that was hugging the street, until each person’s right hand rested on his heart.

A few old men in overalls and young men in uniform saluted with their hands against their forehead. Old soldiers remembering; new soldiers bound for duty. But we all saluted. It was a ritual everyone knew. And it happened time and again, year after year.

I was impressed with the sense of pride people in my town seemed to have for our flag. But I wondered why it was so important. What made it such a revered, universal icon for the generations before me? I knew it was a symbol for America, but why was it more important than, say, our state flag? We never saluted that. Yet I was just as proud to be an "Okie" as I was to be an American!

So, later in the day, after the parade, and after my family had enjoyed a wonderful feast of cold chicken, potato salad, baked beans, and homemade ice cream at our public park, I determined to ask my dad why the flag was so important to everyone. It turned out to be one of those magic moments between a father and his son.

He said, "Son, that flag tells the story of America. Every time I see it, I think of my heritage and my freedom—of your heritage and your freedom. I think of our farm. It is ours. We can own it because of that flag. I think of our church and of all the other churches in our town. We can go to any one of them because of that flag.

"I think about where we live. Your mom and I chose to live here because we were raised here, and it has been our family’s home for three generations. And we love it here. But we are free to move anytime. And when you grow up, you can live anywhere you want to in America—as long as that flag waves over every state capitol, and hangs in every school, and flies in every parade.

"It’s a reminder that we are all Americans first. And we each share a unity as Americans that is first in importance. Everyone of us has an undivided allegiance to be Americans first—even before we are Oklahomans, or Virginians, or wherever our place of residence may be. That’s what the word United in United States means. We have a special duty to understand and preserve and defend our country first—above everything else."

He went on, "And when I see the flag I think about my father and grandfather. You see, to be free was just as important to them. I guess I realize you and I are free partly because of them—because they served their country as soldiers when it became necessary to devote their time to a greater interest than themselves. It’s the same thing we would do if it were ever required of us. And it will be the same for your sons and grandsons.

"The flag tells of great struggles, of men with such valor and courage that the ideals and honor of our country were dearer to them than their own lives. Think about that! Your grandfather was such a man. He died when your mom was three years old. He died fighting in a country where he had never been, against a people he never knew. And he did it willingly, for America. Think about what it means to be willing to give up your life because your liberty and the freedom of others are threatened. Surely, there is no greater virtue than to die for others."

Then he made it all come home so clearly to me. He said, "Son, there is something that you must also understand about being an American. You cannot be saved by the valor and devotion of your ancestors. Duty is required of every generation. If the time ever comes, the hope of America rests upon your willingness to sacrifice and endure the same as those before you have sacrificed and endured. That’s what it means to be an American. That’s what it means to be patriotic. That’s what it means to revere the great names in our history and to keep them before every generation in our schools and in our government.

"And that’s why we doff our hats and salute the flag. In its threads rests the inspiration of free men. We stand on the shoulders of giants."

Looking back on it now, I have to admit that I wasn’t sure I understood all that my dad told me that day. But I knew this—it was all of a sudden a lot more important to me that I was an American.

That was 35 years ago. And I still can’t watch a parade without placing my hand on my heart when our flag flies in front of me.

Yes, our flag makes a difference to me. A big difference!