“Why do you think we have a flag, Ben?” I replied.
“So you can tell which way the wind is blowing,” our honest little man announced.
A smile crossed my face because I realized that what we had been studying about the representation of wind in art (because of reading Miss Rumphius for Five in a Row) had made an impression in his mind. But the American flag is so much more than a colorful windsock. I began wondering, “How many of us really understand the significance of the flag of the United States or of the pledge that we say in allegiance to that flag? How many of us appreciate on a daily basis the freedoms that we enjoy here in our nation that many other nations do not enjoy?”
I know that patriotism is not the exclusive privilege or property of Americans. Any other citizen of the other 195 countries in the world is probably equally as proud of his nation and may even show patriotism for his country as we Americans do on Memorial Day, Flag Day, and the Fourth of July: by flying that nation’s flag. That is why we have a flag. It is our reminder of our nation’s uniqueness, greatness, and valor. In the case of United States, our flag is a tangible object that represents the intangible freedoms we enjoy because of men and women who have sacrificed so much for our sakes. Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, reporting to Congress on the Great Seal that had been established for the fledgling nation, stated:
"The colors of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."The colors of the flag, which was then mimicked in the nation’s Great Seal, represent specific abstract (but significant) concepts. It is especially on Memorial Day we should remind ourselves and our children of the sacrifice required—the valor, hardiness, vigilance and perseverance required—to attain and maintain the purity, innocence, and justice represented by our Stars and Stripes.
In the United States’ first hundred years of existence, over 683,000 Americans lost their lives in combat. A little over nine-tenths of those losses occurred during the Civil War, which accounted for 623,026 of that total. In comparison (or in contrast, depending on how you look at it), over the next hundred years, a further 626,000 Americans died—and those last hundred years covered two World Wars and several more regional conflicts of a fairly lengthy duration (Vietnam and the War on Terror, for example). [Source: U.S. Army Military History Institute] That is over one million men and women who have given their lives for our freedom!
This Memorial Day, I intend to rehearse for my children why we have a flag, and why we should be so proud of that flag and the country for which it stands. Moreover, we intend to thank every veteran we meet for the sacrifices they have made for our freedoms. And we intend express our gratitude to families who have lost loved ones on our behalf by honoring them with silence, prayer, and applause (when each is appropriate) this Memorial Day. May it be a day that is more than parades, picnics, and flag-waving. May it be a day of grateful remembrance. That conversation may start with something like this, “Our flag is so much more than a windsock, son. Just let me tell you a little bit about it.”