Not long ago my father-in-law died and the Sarge and I went back to his small hometown in Illinois to hold his memorial. Small town America still holds its veterans in high esteem. To demonstrate that reverence the American Legion conducted a wonderful ceremony to celebrate the life of their old commander, 21-gun salute and all. I was holding up pretty well until those old warriors conducted the flag ceremony. How powerful is that folding ritual, where the loved one is given the triangle of cloth that most folks put in a sacred place in their home?
What is it about such symbols that draws us to them, makes us revere them, prompts our outrage at their destruction, yet such destruction is considered protected speech by our courts?
The Stars and Stripes have represented our nation since 1777 and the power of the flag was shown when troops, at the Siege of Fort Stanwix that same year, tore up clothing—including Capt. Abraham Swartwout's blue cloth coat—to create the flag as soon as they were informed that it had been adopted by Congress. Capt. Swartwout was later reimbursed for his coat by Congress, by the way…
Sadly, contrary to popular history, Betsy Ross had nothing to do with our great symbol. Francis Hopkinson, a naval flag designer who was in the position that would later become the Secretary of the Navy, designed the flag—possibly using the pattern of the British East India Company. Regardless of its inspiration, our flag was well received and became the symbol of not only the United States, but also of freedom worldwide. So dominant had the flag become in representing America in George Washington's time, that he lamented the fact that we did not have a "battle flag," a banner common throughout the world at that time.
Today, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner are conducted standing before those revered Stars and Stripes, and many of our most solemn moments are experienced at attention under that symbol. No one who has ever observed a first responder's, veteran's, or government officer's funeral could doubt how powerful that flag is when it moves to tears the heroes who serve and protect the nation it represents. Strong voices fail and eyes in hard faces grow misty as the flag is folded and given to a loved one. And watching old soldiers rise from their wheelchairs to stand before an honor guard always wrenches my heart.
It is because of that intensity of emotion that watching a flag burning or a millionaire jock refusing to stand for the Anthem causes my ire to rise way out of proportion. I love football, but it is just "snack food" in my life; the flag represents the "meat and potatoes" of freedom. In fact, I do not actually miss the NFL as much as I thought I would, now that I'm boycotting it. Ridiculous excuses for not standing due to this stanza or that, which are never even sung, are absurd. Especially when you actually read the supposed offending term "slave" in the third stanza, which Francis Scott Key wrote while incarcerated in a British vessel manned by sailors enslaved by England—this being one of the basic reasons for the War of 1812…remember "impressed sailors?"
Therefore, I am a firm believer in saying the Pledge of Allegiance, in standing for the Star Spangled Banner with hat held over my heart, and condemning anyone who burns our flag.
That said, I want to finish by addressing an issue I never thought would become controversial…the thin blue line American flag.
Drive by my house and you will see a black and white flag with a blue line running through it. It shares the form, the love, the reverence of Old Glory, but it is not the Stars and Stripes; it is a reverential emulation of that beloved form to show our sorrow and respect for our brothers and sisters who gave all to protect the nation represented by the Red, White, and Blue.
While some may think it is a desecration, I disagree vehemently; and in this time of crisis and turmoil I think of it as our battle flag. It flies not out of disrespect, but in reverence for our beloved symbol and those who have died for her. It is the representation of our mission to protect the freedoms enshrined at the creation of our great nation!
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand…
Thank you for your service.
Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.