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Do Not Disrespect Old Glory

From that title, you may be thinking I am writing about Bush commuting Scooter Libby’s sentence, but I’m not being coy: this is about the flag.

Over on Twitter, Blake commented, “62% of Americans said they flew the stars and stripes at home, office or car, sez poll by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.”

I would bet 90 percent of the flag-flyers are flying the flag incorrectly. As a veteran, this bugs me no end.

It’s bad enough we send our working poor to fight our wars while we zoom around in our big-butt SUVs, complaining about the high price of gas. It’s bad enough that days go by when we forget we’re at war because geeze, the iPhone just came out or Britney’s out of jail, and if you can’t see a war and you don’t feel its sacrifice, well, it just slips.

We’re not over there humping our way through the 140-degree heat trying to secure a patch of dust and avoid getting our rumps blown sky-high. We’re here, driving to Wal-Mart to buy ourselves a little patriotism, looking for a good price on a flag sewn somewhere overseas, a flag we’ll hoist right before we make another run to Publix for more beer and burgers, because we wouldn’t want to not have our every whim met tomorrow, even if some troops fighting that unseen war are in such short supply their water is rationed.

We extend the same carelessness to flags, as well. Oh yeah, we’re patriotic, as long as that means hoisting a flag on a flagpole and then forgetting about it, letting it get faded and frizzled from sun, rain, and wind. Sure, we’re all about patriotism, as long as it’s a meaningless gesture with no pain or sacrifice on our behalf.

If you really want to fly a flag, do it right. Raise it quickly and lower it slowly. Unless you’re going to take it down every time it rains or snows, buy an all-weather flag. Unless you’re going to illuminate it 24 hours — and you might check with your neighbors on that — take it down at sunset every night, or fly it on special occasions. When you do take it down, don’t just wad it up and stick it in your front hall closet behind the umbrellas; fold it correctly. Keep your flag clean and mended, and when it has outlived its useful life, show some respect in how you retire it.

Some day, after you’ve raised the flag, stop and listen to what it tells you. You don’t have to stand retreat (though imagine a world where this was ordinary, respected practice, the way it is on military bases: what would that teach us about discipline, and attention, and a formal division between day and night?). Just stand near the flagpole and listen for the sound of the halyard slapping against the flagpole’s hoist, and for the crackle of the flag’s fly end snapping in the breeze.

Give it a full three minutes without checking your Blackberry or talking to anyone. Let your crowded mind empty, and focus on the flag. Then consider the people who in good faith are fighting our forgotten war, people who at some point in their military career were all taught how to tend a flag, who would never leave it alone in the dark, or allow it to get sodden from rain or frayed from disuse, or toss it like a popsicle stick when its fabric gave out. They aren’t dupes and stooges for serving our country; they made a deal and they’re sticking to it. They practice what they preach.

Can we?

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