The Flag

Stuart R. Hilton

Traditionalists say I was born of a womanís handÖ fashioned from bits of cloth by a seamstress in Philadelphia a year after the new country was born.

I first became influenced by the power of a flag in 1958 after completion of basic training in Her Majestyís Royal Engineers. It was the Sunday Church parade after graduation. We were dressed immaculately with every button gleaming in the sunlight. Our faces mirrored in the deep black shine of our boots. We reverently took our seats as the chaplain blessed us with health, strength, wisdom, and fortitude. We were about to go out to protect the British Empire and Her Majesty the Queen. He then quietly turned and pointed to the ragged, torn, and blood-stained flags in the corner of the great cathedral, and with growing emotion he recalled battle after battle and war after war in which the "colors" had proudly flown. Then, in a still, quiet voice that seemed to echo around and around the walls until it almost deafened us, he said, "Never let these flags ever fall to the ground in battle or in peace. Use the last drop of your life-giving blood to see that they never die and keep them flying high for the world to see."

Since that day of pledging my loyalty to the Union Jack, I have also been able to include the Canadian Maple Leaf, the Puerto Rican Flag, and the Stars and Stripes. But none stirs the emotions higher and deeper than the flag of the United States of America. My professional life has taken me to almost all countries of the free world, and some of the not-so-free world. In each country, I visited the American Embassies, and the sense of pride and security as one passes by the Marine guard and under the flag cannot be expressed in words, but only felt in the emotions of the soul. America is the most flag-flying country of the world, and so Iíve borrowed some words from Bob Nelson of KYW Philadelphia, who wrote of Old Glory in honor of the Bicentennial, and I added some of my own.

Traditionalists say I was born of a womanís hand...fashioned from bits of cloth by a seamstress in Philadelphia a year after the new country was born.

Historians are less certain of my origin. Yet, no one doubts my existence. I was created out of necessity to serve as the emblem of a people whose experiment in nationhood was as unique as the arrangement of my stars and stripes.

I have proven my adaptability to change. Iíve accommodated growth. Iíve stood up to time and troubles. I fluttered in the fall air with General Washington and his loyal French allies at Yorktown. My fabric was shredded by cannonballs from British frigates in the War of 1812, and I was carried in triumph by Andy Jackson at New Orleans. The British could see me clearly in the mists of "the dawnís early light" waving from the standards of Fort McHenry.

Iíve witnessed turmoil and bitterness, even lost some of my glory in mid-century in a war between brothers, but I was restored as a Nationís emblem at Appomattox.

I traveled West with new frontiers. I flew from the headlamps of the Iron Horse in Utah. I was with the prospectors at Sutterís Mill, and with the cavalry at San Juan Hill.

I crossed the Marne with the doughboys anxious to make the world safe for democracy. I was raised over a shell-pocketed hilltop at Iwo Jima, and I stood by grim-faced negotiators at Panmunjom. I was on the last helicopter from Saigon.

I have been around in victory and defeat. Iíve been folded smartly by soldiers and handed gently to weeping widows. Iíve covered the coffins of those whoíve served country and community. But Iíve also decorated bandstands and concert halls. I am saluted to in parades, in schools, and at ball parks.

Traditionalists say I was born of a womanís handÖ fashioned from bits of cloth by a seamstress in Philadelphia a year after the new country was born. I am a part of political campaigns, high holidays, and ice-cream socials. I fly from skyscrapers and bungalows. Iíve been to the moon and to the ocean floor.

Iíve felt the heat of the tropics, the cold of the frozen north and the searing sands of the "Desert Storm." Iíve flown proudly as food is distributed to the less fortunate and cried tears of shame that caused my red, white, and blue to run together as I was spat upon, trampled in the ground and burned before a mocking crowd.

So, I am everywhere my people are. Saluted, scorned, held with pride, ridiculed because I am everything my people are: proud, angry, happy, sad, vengeful, argumentative, ambitious, and indifferent.

I was created to serve a people in struggle and a government in change. There are now more stars in my blue field than there were in the beginning and if need be, thereís room for more.

But this I promise, those red and white stripes will remain in the future as I have kept them in the past, always clearly visible through whatever struggle I am put through. I will always remain a symbol of "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave."

I am your past.

                I am your future.

                           I am your flag.

                                         What will YOU do with me?