Norris Burkes: Honoring the flag with fullest respect
Flag Day is this coming Monday, so I encourage you to proudly and properly display our American flag on your front porch, stoop, or driveway.
As a retired Air Force chaplain, my view of proper display may differ from yours. But I do hope you will avoid the boorish examples of some I’ve seen lately.
For instance, I was taken aback to see a local real estate agent post the American flag in driveways with her business card attached. Adding to my surprise, the owner of an area landscaping company named after an assault rifle flew the flag from his pickup bed.
And who can forget the flags hung during this past election season trying to claim which candidate was the most patriotic. Worse to me was a church announcing their political slant by hanging a jumbo-size flag as a backdrop on their altar.
Again, I take a different view.
When I look at flags hung on America’s Main Street, my mind superimposes those covering the coffins of the many soldiers I’ve seen buried.
Flag-lined streets take me back to a particular veterans’ cemetery where I conducted services for the fallen. I began with the 23rd Psalm and concluded with a prayer. At that point, my chaplain assistant would bark, “Ah-ten-SHUN!” and cue the color guard to assemble.
Fifty yards away, a three-person detail would fire off 21 shots — a wartime custom once used to announce that the battlefield had been cleared of the dead and the fighting could resume.
Over the grave of the brave, a lone bugler would play taps and the vibrating melancholic tones strained the emotions of the most stoic.
On the last note, the honor guard responded like crisp marionettes strung by a master’s hand. They lifted each corner of the flag from the casket, snapping it so taut that it startled nearby mourners. They folded it twice lengthwise and then began a series of folds that transformed the flag into a tight triangle.
The officer affectionately placed three shell casings into the folded flag, each representing a volley. The folds were meant to conceal the blood-red stripes and leave nine shining stars exposed on the double-sided blue canvas. Thus folded, the implication is that God’s creation of stars and sky is the only thing to be treasured. The blood stripes, symbolizing the sacrifice of man, are minimized.
Custom required the sergeant to give the folded flag to an officer or chaplain where he or she knelt before the parent or spouse to present a wrinkle-less flag.
Whispered words spoken to next of kin were inaudible to those nearby: “This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
The funeral director dismissed the crowd, but a few people stopped briefly to lay a rose on the casket. Only selected family members who stayed heard the sobbing as funeral directors winched the casket into the grave, a few inches at a time.
So, when you display the American flag next Monday, I have a favor to ask. Imagine that same flag draping the bodies of 755 first responders killed on 9/11 and nearly 7,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen who have since died. Imagine the flag hanging from your porch covering the body of one of 791 police officers murdered in the 21st century.
Only when you consider the flag as the last blanket of the fallen can you give our flag its due honor and proudly sing as we did at those funerals:
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Norris Burkes lives in Auburn.
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