BY RON FEINBERG / WEB EDITOR //
While cleaning out my garage recently, tossing aside paint cans and rusted rakes, boxes of old clothes and crates filled with crumbling papers and fading memories, I happened upon a flag. It was protected from the elements – dust and dirt, spiders, their webs and other icky things – folded neatly inside a plastic cover.
The stars, white against a field of blue, first caught my attention and I immediately recalled the history of this particular pennant. It was the flag that had covered my father’s coffin when he was buried nearly 16 years ago.
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The flag was just one bit of the military honors that were part of his funeral, the reward for his Army service in the South Pacific during World War II. My father was part of the “greatest” generation, that group of men and women who lived through the dark days of the Great Depression, then put themselves in harm’s way to protect a precious way of life, this idea we call the United States of America.
I often wonder what he’d think about the country today, a land divided by contentious issues that have many hunkering down in warring camps of red and blue. Of course there have always been divisions and disagreements here, an obvious byproduct of the rich immigrant stew that has been part of America since its founding.
But people use to talk and listen. Now they yell and hold ever tighter to their core beliefs. That there’s plenty to be truly frightened about these days doesn’t help.
The economy continues to sputter and it could be years before it bounces completely back; we’re still fighting battles in foreign and distant lands where our enemies are deadly and invisible; Congress is a dismal mess and the White House is once again fending off charges of misconduct and malfeasance.
And then there’s my father’s flag.
The last time I remember holding it was well over a decade ago. The nightmare that we now remember as 9/11 had just happened and there was fear across the land. But there was also something else, a stronger emotion that, for lack of any other word, I’d call patriotism. Sometimes it takes something really bad to bring us all together. And for a time America was in a special place, everyone pulling for one another.
Flags started showing up in public, in front of government buildings and businesses, at schools and shopping malls, at apartment complexes and draped over the entrances to neighborhood subdivisions. They hung from makeshift flag poles in front of homes, dangled from second-story windows and covered front doors.
I wanted to join the crowd, be part of the neighborly effort. But I was a little late coming to the game and there wasn’t a store in my little corner of the world that had any flags to sell.
Then I remembered my father’s funeral. I found the flag that had draped his coffin buried in the back of a closet. It was huge, but I managed to drape it between two windows outside a front bedroom of my home, tying it off with a length of rope.
I stood in my front yard, a light wind rippling the Stars and Stripes and felt something stirring in my heart, my thoughts filled with my father, the struggles and successes of his generation. Hope was right there in front of me, once more part of my life. It was Red, White and Blue and I knew that everything was going to be okay.
And that’s my message on this Memorial Day weekend. For just a moment, as you relax and spend time with family and friends, remember the millions who have served this country, sacrificed their time, their comfort and their lives for an idea that remains a work in progress.
Most importantly, remember those who continue to serve today and for an instant remember that we’re all in this together and that hope is a commodity we can still control.