By Don Keelan
Over the past few months there has been a great deal of emotional display over the American flag and the national anthem — much of which has taken place at NFL games, and some of which has been seen at college and high school athletic events. I will leave it to the experts to sort this out. I am interested in the proper displaying of the American and state flag.
And while I don’t agree with how some individuals or groups treat the flag — stomping on it, burning it or ripping it into shreds — I hold no malice toward them, as they exercise their constitutional right carrying out the destruction of the flag.
Those that are hell-bent on destroying the flag, fortunately, are few in number, but gain quite a bit of media attention when they carry out their objective — and for the media, it is news. What does not receive coverage are those businesses and residences that display the flag day in and day out.
As a former member of the United States Marine Corps Ceremonial Guard Detachment in Washington, D.C., the American flag, as well as all of the military and state flags, were central to the ceremonies in which we were assigned to participate. And at the age of 17, it made quite a lasting impression.
Nowhere was that impression so moving for me than at a burial detail at Arlington National Cemetery. It was there that we participated in funerals for deceased Marines — from privates to generals and admirals.
I found it deeply moving when my fellow Marines, eight of us, lifted the flag from a coffin and held it taut while the graveside service was performed. Once the readings were over, we commenced the folding of the 9-by-5 foot flag into the shape of a triangle.
One of us would then bring the flag to a family member of the deceased Marine. We would go down on one knee and present the folded flag, doing all we could not to allow the tears we were witnessing prevent us from saying, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, and a grateful Nation, I wish to present you with this flag in appreciation of your loved one’s service.” I’m not sure if the words have since changed.
Now for a few suggestions for those who take pride in displaying the American and Vermont flags. If any flag is either ripped or faded, remove it and burn it (generally on Flag Day, June 14). There is nothing more distressing than to see “Old Glory” in shreds. Also, when the flags are requested to be lowered to half-staff, do it and be cognizant as to when the flags are to be raised.
A postscript to the above suggestion is that all other flags are to be lowered as well — each at a position below the lowered American flag. And one last point here is that if the flags are to be kept in place day and night, when darkness falls, the flags should have a light shined upon them.
And to my neighbors and fellow businesses and nonprofit entities who do not display the flag, take the time to think about doing so. If it is a matter of cost or placement, your local VFW or American Legion are a place to be in touch with for assistance.
I see a number of state of Vermont flags as I travel around the state. There is a word on the state flag that I hold dear: “unity.” Whether one proudly displays the flag, burns it, or sits silently, there is a oneness about all of us, and that is what our American and Vermont flags represent.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.