This past week, I read a social media post in which the author opined that he did not see the necessity for the outrage attendant to the flag. This individual, presumably to assuage his own lack of understanding, suggested he honored the country and not the flag that represented it. He meant well, but really has no grasp of symbolism. You certainly do not have to display a flag at home to be patriotic, but many of us do, and enjoy standing in the shadow of this symbol of America. It prompted a thought or two about the ceremony, conducted under the shadow of the flag, that honored Senator McCain, as it compared with the ceremony honoring my own father when he was committed to eternity.
Senator McCain was a patriot. He was fortunate enough to be born into military royalty, the son of an Admiral, who was the son of yet another Admiral, thus practically guaranteeing him entry into the Naval Academy. He became a naval aviator, arguably among the finest warriors that America produces, and spent many years in captivity under conditions that broke many of his fellow warriors. He was married to a wealthy socialite and possessed the charisma and means to enter politics and enjoy a long career in the US Senate, duly noted in the lengthy sendoff accorded him by a grateful nation. There is room in my yard, for the spirit of John McCain to stand in the shadow of my flag. With all due respect to the Senator, the space under the shadow of my flag belongs first to those ordinary Americans who were not born into a level of opulence that all but guaranteed the chance to enjoy a distinguished career. It is fitting Senator, that you stand with the spirit of my own father, but not, sir, in front of him.
Dad was born into a lower class working family in the small town of Marion, South Carolina. His father, Alex, was said to be a hard edged individual, taken to strong drink and a rough life style. Alex was married to Emma, a demure lady, who kept a small house on the edge of town where she raised a brood of sons and daughters who were, by and large, left to their own wit to succeed in life. There were no silver spoons in this family. My father was a street brawler who soon found himself at odds with a local magistrate and on his way to basic training in the US Army, where his propensity to fight was most welcome. He rose quickly in the enlisted ranks and was ordered to Korea where he became a tank commander. When his commander was killed, he was commissioned on the battlefield and began a distinguished career as an officer referred to in military circles as a “mustang”. As an airborne officer, he was given various commands in airborne units, such as Special Forces and the 173d Airborne Brigade, both units taking him to Vietnam where he was able to indulge his passion in life, close quarters combat, where you stepped in the blood of the vanquished. Despite his career path, he could be quietly eloquent on occasion, with a deceiving manner that concealed his passion for the fight and smell of gunpowder and sound of combat. He possessed the remarkable ability to transform from a country philosopher, enjoying a scotch and soda, to a cold calculating killer, all in the name of a country that he loved.
The Colonel had planned his own funeral, knowing that cancer was soon to kill him. He contacted his own pallbearers, ensured their availability for the simple military service that he planned, selected his own coffin and purchased a new Lincoln Continental, upon which he took a credit life policy which, of course, paid for the car when he died a few months after the purchase. It was a very nice service, with a number of family and friends in attendance, conducted by the soldiers he once commanded. He was interred after a small ceremony in a National Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina, among the military brother’s and sisters he revered. Because he was not a Senator, nor the son of a succession of General Officers, he was not accorded the days upon days of ceremony honoring his service. This, readers, is the fate of literally millions of American’s who have given a fair measure of their lives to this country. It is these folks, accorded a nominal ceremony at the end of their lives, whose spirits are welcome under the shadow of the flag in my yard. At dusk, as the world around us slows down, I can gaze at the flag, softly moving in the evening breeze, and feel their presence. I hope the Senator stops by once in a while, as he has earned a place among these warriors……
As a final note, eternity is a very long time. I would much rather spend this time among the warriors in Valhalla than among those pitiful, lost souls who will surely be relegated to an artificial turf patch where folks who have given nothing to their country and the human condition, and who choose to dishonor those that have, will spend their time, on a knee protesting something they cannot define. There is undoubtedly a flag in Valhalla, and there will be American warriors sitting under it talking about their love for America…..this would be a place that kneeling football players should avoid. To do otherwise would be a fools errand. The folks that kneel are not welcome in the shadow of my flag.