Friday, July 4, 2008

On Flags and Patriotism

Yesterday on the way back from the temple, we passed a huge condo complex and several large businesses with hundreds of flags lining their properties and today there are thousands of flags decorating the front yards of private homes. It’s a thrilling sight, one that brings a lump to my throat. Since I was a small child and learned the pledge of allegiance from my older Boy Scout brothers, then had that learning reinforced with a daily recitation of that pledge in school each morning, I’ve loved our flag. Even more I love this country. In recent years the flag has taken on deeper meaning for me and I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the privileges great and small that are mine because I am an American.

When our son-in-law was deployed to Iraq the first time we learned that soldiers’ families on their home bases fly a flag in the absent soldier’s honor until he/she returns. We decided to do the same though we’re not on a military base. It became a tangible link to him and a means of showing respect for the sacrifice he and our daughter were making for this country. We did the same during his second deployment.

When a child you love with all your heart puts on his country’s uniform and is somewhere in the midst of a brutal war, parents and other loved ones scramble for ways to show support, to lend encouragement, to provide a glimpse of home, and perhaps furnish a few treats to brighten a homesick soldier’s life and let him know someone back home loves him. A lot of praying happens too. We did all that, even undertook a letter-writing campaign to encourage local and national companies to send treats to our servicemen. (I’ll always buy Little Debbie products because they sent our son-in-law several cases (not individual cartons) of their products just before Christmas which he was able to share with his entire unit.

A trap devised by enemy terrorists to decapitate American soldiers nearly took our son-in-law’s life. Only the fact that he is taller than the trap was set for and the fact that he was wearing heavy armor spared his life, though that was touch-n-go as he was air-lifted to Germany, then a week later on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. His recovery has been long and slow and in the process we’ve learned much about soldiers who offered their lives for their country, but whose lives were spared, only to find life vastly changed for them. Visiting Walter Reed we were first impressed by the positive attitude of these wounded warriors and their willingness to learn new ways to do tasks once taken for granted.

We also became acquainted with several organizations that exist for the sole purpose of helping wounded soldiers and their families to make the transition back into their units or back to civilian society. Two groups that have been of great support to our son-in-law, our daughter, and their young son are Operation Second Chance www.operationsecondchance.org and Warrior Weekend www.warriorweekend.com The first provides wounded soldiers with many personal necessities (their clothes, shaving kits, calling cards or cell phones, all personal items are usually still back at their base in Iraq or Afghanistan), places for their families to stay, meet them at the airport to provide transportation to Walter Reed, assist in modification of housing, and help the recovering soldier find jobs or retraining. The second groups provide the means for small groups of 8-10 to enjoy themselves during small vacations to various destination cities, parks, beaches, etc. to relax and be with their families. Both provide an invaluable service and both survive on donations from individuals and companies. To learn more about them or to make a donation go to the above addresses.
Today I look at the flags lining our streets and say thank you to all the men and women who have ever fought for our country; not just those who returned to a hero’s welcome, but to those who gave their life and to those who are fighting to regain their lives. And not to be forgotten are all those wives, children, parents and other loved ones who serve by waiting and praying for their beloved soldiers. And I thank those special Americans, who remember the soldiers with no families and those soldiers who are other people’s sons and daughters. One more thank you to all those Americans who understand that freedom isn’t free, but it is worth whatever price we must pay.

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