My grandfather, Henry Tesch, was a WWII paratrooper in the first phase of the Normandy invasion, one of the unfortunates who landed in hedgerows that were higher, thicker, and more brutally injurious than the military strategists had expected. The scars from that landing were deeply etched into the flesh of his left leg, serving as a constant reminder of that painful episode in his mental diary of the war.
As a girl growing up in Dearborn, Michigan, I remember my grandpa carefully hanging the American flag outside the front door on a few occasions during the year: Memorial Day, July 4th, D-Day, Veteran's Day. And this one day in the middle of June. He would ask me to help him raise the flag, which I loved doing. At the age of seven, I didn't quite grasp the protocol and the rationale for why we flew our flag at certain times and not others. After all, the Post Office hoisted the flag every morning.
For grandpa, hanging the flag was a ritual act of reverence. The flag was a symbol of the freedom he fought for and the good life we live. Only when I was older did I understand this.
My parents told me stories about living through the Vietnam years when the flag was burned in protest. Pop culture activists stitched the Stars and Stripes into short shorts, quite like turning the cross into a piece of jewelry. Reverence was no longer en vogue. The symbols that once united us as one nation were the same symbols that became the lightning rods for protest against an unjust and unpopular war.
Yet, on one level, symbols are nothing more than images made of cloth, metal, wood, or paper after all. On another level, symbols convey a larger, deeper meaning, one that we all instantly understand. They serve to represent our ideals in a visual short hand. It is because of the meaning symbols carry with them, that we revere or desecrate them. Such actions, then, bear their own meaning.
This Flag Day, June 14th, I will think of my grandpa Tesch as I do every year, and remember him in his later years, a bit shaky, but determined to raise the flag. "It is a day when we revere our flag," he would say. "Because our flag represents our country, and what our country stands for."
For me, the flag and the cross are symbols that resonate the most deeply for me. I personally pay allegiance to both "God and Country" with both loyalty and mistrust. I question motives, decisions and shallow rationalizations. At the same time, I applaud acts of courage and honesty.
So, what does Flag Day mean for us in 2014? Under President Truman, Congress established National Flag Day. It is, for the most part, a forgotten holiday. Children don't "pledge allegiance to the flag" anymore. Do grown-ups?
I, Leona Foxx, am fictional. But, my concerns are not. I plan to raise an American flag in front of my house on Flag Day. I wonder if my neighbors will too.