Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Not For The First Time

I was flag captain in my seventh grade class at Clark Howell Elementary School, long since torn down in favor of a City of Atlanta fire station at that site on Tenth Street, between Juniper and Piedmont. As flag captain, I was in charge of daily mounting of the flag to fly from the schoolhouse flagpole. I was given access to the second floor storage room and permitted to climb out the window to the brick-walled patio from which the pole protruded. Each morning, I snapped the flag to a rope and pulley and ran it to the end of the pole. As the school day closed, I reeled the flag in. The flag was not to be dropped, allowed to touch the ground, or left out in the rain. If it began to rain during school, I was to excuse myself from class and bring in the flag. The flag had to be folded a certain way before it was put back on the shelf. Two people were required to do this correctly. My buddy Luther was the flag lieutenant. Holding the flag from each end waist-high and parallel to the ground, we folded it in half lengthwise. Twice. With the blue field and stars on the outside. We made a rectangular fold in the striped end, then a triangular fold, from left to right. We created a smaller triangle out of the first then folded the triangle end over end, tucking any excess into the last fold. If you do this right, the successful result is a triangle of blue with white stars. Being in the seventh grade involved a lot of responsibility.

This experience came in handy a few years later when I went into the Army, where duty orderlies and other volunteers served to raise and lower the flag. The U.S. Army allocated training in rules and procedures about the flag. The Army scheduled a lot of time to teach me things I already knew how to do. Like typing. I scored above the minimum required typing speed on the first test. From then on, I was reassigned to busy-work details, picking up cigarette butts, raking leaves, sweeping sidewalks that had been swept already that day. The right way, the wrong way, and the Army way. Still, I have spent most of my life earning a living doing the main thing the U. S. Army trained me to do, working as a telecommunications equipment operator, technician, and engineer.

I can get emotional when The Star Spangled Banner plays before baseball games. I am always stirred by the famous photograph of Ira Hayes at his bravest with his buddies on Iwo Jima raising the flag, as well as the monument to it in Washington, D.C. Back in the days before 24-hour television, stations signed off every night with the National Anthem, amber waves of grain, and Old Glory. It was the best show on television. I can barely watch the movie From Here to Eternity when Montgomery Clift plays Taps on the bugle. I was at Arlington National Cemetery once, and they played Taps. If you’re ever around when they play Taps, don’t look at me. Just don’t look.

Popular history says Betsy Ross sewed the first U.S. flag of 13 stars and 13 stripes based on a pencil sketch by George Washington. It does not matter if this is true. People like to believe it. Today’s 50-star flag was adopted in 1959 by Presidential proclamation, upon the admission to statehood of Hawaii, birthplace of Barack Obama, President-elect of the United States. Last week, I bought a new flag just in case, not a picture of a flag printed overseas on starched cloth but a real flag made in America by a company that has been stitching together stars and stripes since 1847. My beautiful flag is 3 feet by 5 feet, with a 6 foot pole and mount for the front window sill of my house. This morning I am flying it in celebration and in our honor.

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter


Anonymous said...

What a fitting post on the day we made history! Fly your flag high, Uncle Bill!!!! Yippeeee!

Ralph McCluggage said...

Bill: I was flag captain at Derby (Kansas)Elementary School (although I didn't know I had a title). I'll never forget the night I woke up and it was raining and a feeling of terror went through me. I had forgotten to take the flag down. It's visceral and if one doesn't understand you can't explain it to them. You know I fly the flag every day. Loyalty and love of what this country stands for knows no party or division.

margo said...

"The country has been run too long by rich old men who have no idea or concern about the lives and plight of the majority of the people."

That was the answer I received when I queried one of my adult Venezuelan ESL students at Miami Dade College about how Chavez got into power.

Happily, that may be the only comparison that can be made between the elections of Chavez and Obama, but I do see a lesson.

We, the majority of the American people, are fed up too, and we have found a champion who gives every indication of being able to deliver us from the talons of our own predatory "rich old men" and into a better life for the whole, both nationally and internationally, and not just for the few.

How fortunate we are!

dennis said...

After having received countless anonymously written emails (and a few personally written ones) slandering Barack Obama for months on end, from acquaintances who forwarded them relentlessly to every name on their computers, as if attempting to jam America's collective capability of critical thought, I was dubious about the outcome of this election.

There were two remarkable things about this email campaign. The first was that otherwise fully functional, seemingly smart people could buy into such demonstrably false ideas (i.e. Obama is the anti-Christ, a Muslim, a baby-killer, a socialist, not an American citizen, etc); the second was that so many people I know carried such intense vitriol and resentment for a man who has never done them any harm. Unlike the current occupant of the White House, Barack Obama's actions, demeanor and policies have not cost an iota of loss or damage to the well-being, reputation or livelihood of any person I know. He has run a campaign remarkably free of mud-slinging and character attacks. From whence comes all this resentment, this need to diminish the character and accomplishments of a decent man and pour scorn all over his campaign for the presidency?

I'm not willing to call it racism, but it certainly is bigotry of some kind. Maybe it's reverse snobbery. The otherwise good, smart and funny woman who cuts my hair sneers at Obama's education and calls it of no practical use. The idea of a Constitutional scholar sticks in their craw. Anybody who's traveled abroad, who has studied foreign policy and, heaven forfend, been a Harvard Law graduate is unthinkably elitist. And if they bear a non-European foreign name and have a multi-cultural personal history - quick, somebody call Joe the Plumber and flush the guy.

Maybe I'm immune to this because my earliest memories are of growing up in India, as a child of missionary parents. We lived in Pakistan as well. My uncle was both a devout Christian and an Islamic and Arabic scholar. As an adult I've traveled on four continents and found real value in the experience. Foreign exposure is beneficial, a multi-cultural outlook replaces irrational fear of the "other" with appreciation for the complexity of life and the interconnectedness of all humanity. It is one thing when the primitive fundamentalists of Islam choose xenophobia and hatred as their default attitude; it is quite another when educated Americans do the same. To me this is unacceptable; we are capable of better and we need a leader who will help America be better than this. We need someone quite a bit smarter than Joe Sixpack, Joe the Plumber or Sarah the Moose Hunter.

As I have said before, God holds the ultimate destiny of nations in his hands - but we bear collective responsibility for our civic destiny. We suffer consequences when we make mistakes. After the manifold ill consequences of the past two botched elections, I feared even worse this time. But thankfully we got something better this time. As Martin Luther King once said, citing an old preacher and former slave: "Lord, we ain't what we want to be; we ain't what we ought to be; we ain't what we gonna be, but, thank God we ain't what we was."


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