I grew up in a rural Northern Michigan town and was part of an even smaller church community. I’d often serve as an altar girl, which would put me in close contact with some of our more elder parishioners.
I remember one sunny July when a teenager showed up to mass wearing American flag patterned shorts. This created quite the buzz!
“I can’t believe she’s desecrating our flag,” muttered one elder.
“What a disgrace! You don’t tear up a flag and sit on it,” said another.
I was confused. I thought her shorts looked cool, straight from the Polo ad in my Seventeen Magazine.
On the drive home from church, I asked my parents about the gentlemen’s reactions – what’s the big deal? My parents didn’t know these men well, but mentioned they were probably World War II Veterans, which to them explained it all. Not to me. I knew very little about WWII, so I concluded they were just old men looking for something to complain about. After all, my dad was a Vietnam Veteran … he didn’t seem upset. So, I just took my cues from him.
Flash forward many years later.
Each year in my hometown, all the Marines gather on November 10th to celebrate the Marine Corps’ Birthday with biscuits and gravy, which in the military is referred to as SOS – sh*t on a shingle.
At breakfast, my dad always made sure I met some of the WWII Veterans. And, wouldn’t you know it? Not too long ago, I ended up talking to one of those church elders.
I asked the gentleman to tell me about his time in service, which is when I learned he was involved in some of the bloodiest, most horrific battles in the Pacific. He mentioned that when he found out that the war ended, he hugged every single Marine next to him and they wept in each other’s arms. As he recalled the memory, tears welled up in his eyes.
“If you don’t mind me asking, where were you when you heard the news?”
He said he was in the hull of a ship getting ready to invade Japan, which he knew would’ve been his death sentence. Based on everything I’ve studied and read, he was right.
And, just like that, everything made sense.
Now, I’m a Marine. And, yet, I’ve never been terrified for my life. I’ve never been in a situation where the fate of the world rested on my ability to debark a ship with my best friends, and fight until the bitter end for the freedoms and liberties of Americans, and democracies worldwide.
This Veteran had; and he had a very hard-earned, defined perspective of what the American flag symbolized – and it wasn’t a fashion decal. It was a symbol of an ideal worth more than your life. It wasn’t to be tattered, or stitched together to be in-fashion. It certainly wasn’t meant to be sat on! It was to be revered.
Let me say that again: our flag is something to be revered.
Now, tomorrow is the 4th of July. Considering everything I just wrote, you might suspect I would spend this day in solemn solitude, reflecting on the sacrifices made by our founding fathers and Veterans.
Hardly. That’s not how I roll.
I’m going to my parent’s lake house to boat, play corn hole, and drink beer with my cousins. I’m pretty sure we’ll start a bonfire and make s’mores. And when dusk comes, we’ll scrap together our fireworks and disturb the dogs and the neighbors in celebration of our freedom.
And on this day, I don’t have an issue with American flag attire. Quite the contrary, I’m going to Old Navy tonight to pick up matching red-white and blue shirts for the family.
But here’s where I fall in line with my church elders: they introduced a new way of seeing for me, a new way of viewing a symbol we all see in passing, but rarely stop to consider the sacrifices made in its honor as it unfurls.
Now, when I see the American flag, I don’t just think about what it represents to me. I think of what it means to all of us … or could mean to all of us: the highest expressions of freedom and independence in this imperfect nation of ours – one in which we’re continuously striving to perfect. I also think about the indebtedness I have to our Veterans for preserving and defending the sacred ideals that I love, cherish, and enjoy everyday … and especially on Independence Day.
Friends, Happy Fourth of July.
Please forward to your fellow Patriots!
I would love to share the story of this WWII Veteran.
It shifted my perspective. Maybe it could shift all of ours?