Have you ever had the privilege of attending the funeral of a veteran or a servicemember killed in the line of duty? I’m quite certain that most Legionnaires, at one time or another, have stood at the graveside of an American who wore the uniform, rendering a final salute. In fact, thousands regularly volunteer their time to be part of their posts’ honor guards, considering it a sacred duty to pay tribute to our departed comrades and their families.
Every moment of such ceremonies is moving, but perhaps the most powerful is when a servicemember steps forward to present the U.S. flag to the surviving family. Every time, that flag has been meticulously folded, usually by two representatives from the deceased’s branch of service, and is gently placed in the hands of the widow, the parents or the children, on behalf of a grateful nation.
Sometime between the folding of the flag and the presentation, a lump forms in my throat. At times, I’ve had to blink back tears. Even the most stoic of men labor to keep their emotions in check as Old Glory – folded smartly so that only the blue and the stars are showing – is received by surviving family members. There is no greater send-off to Americans who in wartime put our country first, and no better way to thank the loved ones who supported them.
For more than 200 years, U.S. flags have draped the caskets of young and old alike, from those who made the supreme sacrifice in battle to those who made it home. In every case, the flag honors what they gave to America and, for their loved ones, conveys the nation’s gratitude.
At other times, the Stars and Stripes rallies Americans. Raised at Ground Zero in the grim days following 9/11, our flag sent a message to friends and enemies that the United States wouldn’t go quietly into the night. For legal immigrants aspiring to American citizenship, the flag has long meant the hope for a better life. For Olympic athletes about to receive a medal, the flag embodies pride in self and country.
There is no more potent symbol in our nation, yet because of a 1989 Supreme Court decision, that symbol remains unprotected against physical desecration. Every time the U.S. flag is burned or ripped, it’s an affront to those of us who know that it’s far more than a piece of cloth.
Since that day, The American Legion has led the campaign against flag desecration, lobbying Congress on behalf of the millions of Americans who support a constitutional amendment that would return to the people the right to protect their flag.
Currently, two pieces of legislation – H.J. Res 13 in the House and S.J. Res. 19 in the Senate – await action. They say simply: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.”
We celebrate Flag Day this month; now is the time to contact your elected senators and representatives. If they’re co-sponsors, thank them. If they’re not, ask them to sign on to show their support for the legislation. We’ve made it easy to contact them online through the Legislative Action Center. There is no symbol more powerful, or more worth protecting, than our flag.