The American flag Jonathan Leatherman Clason brought to Oklahoma Boys State had a lot of miles on it.
It’s the last few feet, up and back down the flagpole at NEO A&M College, site of Oklahoma Boys State, that meant so much to Clason.
“I knew carrying (that flag) around on all those missions, all those years, all those flight hours, that I always wanted it to fly over Boys State. I never knew when it would, but I’m glad that it did this year,” said Clason, a former Oklahoma Boys State delegate and a senior counselor now at the program.
A pilot in the Air Force, Clason was given the flag by a student who challenged him to take it around the world with him. So Clason did — “it has a permanent spot in my suitcase” — taking the flag to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Laos and more, 36 countries in all.
The American flag itself has meant a lot to Clason for a long time. He remembers being profoundly moved when, as a Boys State delegate in 1999, he noticed the veterans who would stop and salute the flag whenever they walked on or off the stage.
“I think about those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. I think of my gratitude to being able to serve in the uniform and wear the cloth of the nation just like those who have gone before me and served under the same flag,” he said.
And while a dual member of the Legion and the Sons of The American Legion, Clason wore his SAL cap during his week at Boys State, a tribute to his grandfather.
“His stories just gave me more meaning and more gratitude for my service to my country,” Clason said.
Those thoughts — of the flag, the veterans who came before him, those who sacrificed their lives for freedom — struck Clason as he watched his flag rise above Oklahoma Boys State.
“As it was raised up the flagpole in the morning, I thought, man, that’s my flag. All the places that it’s been. And then I carried on throughout the day, but I found myself thinking about it throughout the day, as I would drive by, I would look up on the flagpole. I knew that was my flag. I know where that flag’s been. And then it hit home in the evening, when I stood in formation and they were bringing down the flag, and I stood with 400-plus boys saluting that flag, other veterans who had fought in war, other veterans who have retired, thinking of those who I had known before who had passed on.
“This is where I learned about patriotism, this is where I learned about government, and that flag was kind of a culmination. … I had gratitude that I could pass it on, I could share it and talk about it to my city, with my county, with other young men, and share my pride, share my patriotism, share some stories that I have that they can take and pass on, they can learn from, they can grow and they’ll know more about our great country and The American Legion program which got me to where I am today. And I couldn’t be more thankful for.”