My first days remembering Memorial Day were in the early 30's. It was exciting to hear the bands play the marching songs of the Great War, World War 1. For the occasion I was dressed in white long trousers with white shirt as were other boys my age. The speeches at the memorial sites meant little, but the rifle volleys fired over the graves got my attention as did the bugler playing its mournful sound which I now know as TAPS.
Now, I look back to my time in World War II flying in a bomber out of southern Italy to attack targets throughout southern Europe. It was a time when we carried out our missions with a combination of great fear and anger in our hearts, but with a prayer on our lips. We took our lickings, accepted our victories, and grieved the dead. Finally the war was over and we were the living. We went home, but the dead; the biggest contributor, if they were found, had their marker and were placed in hallowed ground. Their wars would be no more.
We who survived had now joined that fraternity from other wars. We had been there and had returned. Memorial Day had now become ours. We now understood the speeches, the parades, the volleys fired, and TAPS now belonged to us, too. Upon hearing it, our eyes filled with unashamed tears as we remembered.
As the years went by, I put on the uniform again. I marched in the Memorial Day parades, heard the volleys, and listened to TAPS. When the battle cry became Korea, I was sent there. It was the same old story again, the victories and the losses over and over again, the mass graves for those who took the brunt. There was no time for marching bands and the volleys couldn't be heard because of those fired in anger. On one occasion three of us did hold a ceremony for a dead Korean known only to his God. He lay where he died, so two of us buried him while our sergeant played TAPS on the harmonica. I would survive that war, too, and head back to the states for further military duty.
While on a stateside assignment I went to the National Cemetery, at Arlington, Virginia, to bury an old friend. He had been my colonel twice at the same camp. I had gone overseas and returned to serve under him again. When I returned the second time, I was called to his office and he told me how happy he was to have me back. So on that day I said my last goodbye, while the 3rd Infantry Honor Guard laid him to rest with full honors among the acres of heroes buried there.
On Memorial Day I won't go to the memorials, or to see the marching bands, or to listen to the speeches. I will remember in silence and turn out a story like this, so others won't forget. Besides, on that day I have learned that I can hear the volleys and TAPS from the local cemetery in the solitude of my home. After all, who wants to see an old soldier cry.
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines a Flag as a light cloth bearing a device or devices to indicate nationality, party, etc. a standard; banner; ensign.
Flags appear and have appeared, in our lives, in many shapes, sizes, and for many purposes. Few remember the flagman on the railroad who started the train on its way. We are all familiar with the caution and checkered flags used on the auto raceways. The highway work area flagman has given up his flag for an octagon shaped STOP sign, which he rotates to signal GO. In recent years Holiday Flags have been appearing on houses to celebrate holidays and seasons of the year.
The Flag, which we will discuss, is the Flag of the United States of America. It has its devices, namely the stripes; seven red and six white representing the thirteen original colonies, and upon a blue field in the upper left hand corner are the fifty stars representing the fifty States of the United States. It is usually made from cotton or nylon cloth. In the military the width of the Flag is called the hoist and the length is called the fly. The Flag appears in three different sizes: the 3'X 5' flag is the storm flag and flies in bad weather, the 6'X 10' flag is the flag usually flown in fair weather over Post, Camp, and Station. For the holidays, such as the 4th of July the 12'X 20' garrison flag is flown.
In early wars and the Civil War the Flag rallied the troops and they followed it into battle. When the Flag bearer was struck down, the Flag was picked up by another soldier, and he carried it toward the opposing forces. In WW II I was in a B-24 bomber and the Flag was printed on our bailout pass. On the pass we were identified as a soldier of the USA in English, Russian, Serbo-Croat, Czechoslovak, Hungarian, Polish, German, Italian, and French. Friendly people were directed to hide us and to make arrangement for our return to friendly lines. Many fliers were assisted in this manner and did eventually return to their units.
On the battlefields of WW II, Korea, and Viet Nam anything out of the ordinary, such as a Flag would show your position, attract enemy fire, so they weren't presented openly. The absence of the Flag also kept the enemy from displaying the US Flag if a unit was overrun. The lack of the US Flag was apparent except at Division, Corps, and Army areas. My company, in Korea, flew the Flag at our headquarters and it was so unusual to see that many unit commanders who saw it wanted to know where they could get one. They were told that a General Order had to be cut at 8th Army Headquarters and the order had to be the result of a unit citation or commendation. Ours was for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services in support of combat operations in North and South Korea.
When I was small the Flag was displayed by everyone during the Memorial Day and 4th of July Holidays. Porch banisters were covered with red, white, and blue bunting. Small town USA still celebrates these holidays as they remember past wars and their losses of friends and family. We have also seen the loss of respect for the Flag. It has been used as a throw rug at an art show and it has been openly defiled in public. At one time such actions were punishable by fines and jail. Today the courts excuse such action by declaring the Flag a piece of colored cloth and therefor of little value. It is apparent that these members of the judicial have turned their backs on history and certainly haven't walked in my shoes as I served our country. As a soldier we started our careers taking our oath to the country in front of that great Flag. We did this every time we re-enlisted, so we were constantly reminded of our duty to our country and Flag. We saw the fulfillment of those commitments in the past wars. The servicemen and women of this great USA paid a horrendous price to protect the freedom of this country and others. The Flag of the USA is the symbol of their sacrifices and the blood they shed consecrates that banner and the red thereon symbolized the blood they let. It is not a piece of dyed cloth as some would look on it, but it is the sacrifice of all who have defended our way of life.
Those of us who served our country are disappearing with time. The history books have not stood the test of time for they are being changed as I write this. The Liberals believe that wrong would have righted itself if we had sat back and waited. I agree that it would have had a positive side, because they and their ideas would not have been born and if they had they wouldn't have been around to expound them.
Are wars a thing of the past, only if you are a dreamer. The small wars being waged all over the world today are just waiting for the proper accelerant to start a world war anew and we are forgetting the lessons learned in my time by cutting the military as we did in the past. Some say, "No fear, we will mobilize as in the past and be ready for the task." Not so, we are not an industrial giant any more, so we won't be able to beat the enemy by out-producing him, and time will not be in our favor and individual dedication may have slipped into oblivion by that time. Well I won't be around for the finale, but I hope the Flag of the United States of America will.
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