I was driving by your house one day last week, and noticed what appeared to be an American flag stuck into your trashcan, sitting there in the street awaiting pick up. I stopped my car and got out, convinced that I must have seen an umbrella or a used awning or an old striped towel or some other such rubbish--certainly not an American flag.
But it was the US flag, wound around its staff, pushed unceremoniously into the trash receptacle, union down. At the same time, I noticed that you were flying a brand new flag from the side of your house. Apparently you were preparing for the upcoming Fourth of July.
It occurred to me that you may be unaware of the United States Flag Code. The Flag Code, passed by the Congress of the United States, describes rules for how the American flag is to be treated respectfully and with honor. It indicates that the flag should not touch the ground. It indicates that the union (the star field) should never be flown down, except as an emergency signal. It indicates that the flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary, among other provisions.
It also states that when your flag becomes too tattered and torn to be flown, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burial or burning. Various military or service organizations -- the US Army or Marines, the Boy Scouts, the Girls Scouts, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion -- are willing to dispose of a worn-out US flag in a dignified and respectful manner. As you might expect, throwing the flag into a trashcan is not indicated by the Flag Code.
I pulled your flag out of the trash and unfurled it. It was not tattered, it was not torn – just a little faded. When I looked at your flag my thoughts went to various Americans I have known, Americans who fought in the Second World War. I thought of Waist Gunner E. Robert Gipple; I thought of Radio Gunner Luis Quijada; of Army Airman Dell Herndon; of Infantryman Phil Janssen; of Navy Lieutenant Jack T. McDonough; and of Army Air Corps Captain Henry C. Spooner. These men, all of whom I was fortunate enough to grow up around, fought bravely and relentlessly for the United States. Despite tremendous hazards, all of them were able to come back alive, back to their families and to the country they had defended. As you know, a great many of their comrades did not.
Indeed, when these men fought, they did not fight for the American flag--they did not fight merely for a piece of colored cloth. They fought to protect the land, the people, and the ideals for which that flag is a symbol.
And you just don’t throw that kind of symbol into a trashcan.
Needless to say, I removed the flag from where it had been tossed, and I took it home and cleaned it off and reset it onto its loops and halyard. I flew it on the Fourth of July, and I will be doing so every year from now on.
When it comes time to dispose of your new flag , I hope that you will think about what the flag truly represents, and about the people who have risked – and often lost -- everything to keep it flying.
I hope that you and your family had a happy Fourth.
(BLOGMEISTER’S NOTE: Our guest contributor is from Whittier, California. A Professor of Biology at Irvine Valley College, Fretz says he is a registered member of the Green Party, and identifies himself politically as a Libertarian Socialist.)