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I Love the Flag

Let's remember it's a battle flag.

by Everett Wilson
July 1, 2006

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I Love the Flag
At our house we usually show the flag on national holidays in remembrance (though this weekend a porch overhaul means that the bracket is not yet up), not because we need to identify ourselves as Americans. If you have to identify yourself as an American, and you live in the United States, there is something wrong either with you or with your neighborhood! One great thing about the United States is that you don't have to prove who you are. In order to be the land of the free, it must also be the home of the brave. 
 
I love the flag of the United States; it doesn't take much for tears to come to my eyes during the trooping of the colors.  As  I learned more of the purpose of the flag, the more I appreciated it.The true history of the flag is not the parades, displays, legal status, or ritual.
Historically, the flag had and has three primary uses, 
 
1. In battle, the flag identifies you from a distance. 
 
When the Cavalry rescues the Stagecoach in the movie of that name, three lead the charge: the commanding officer, the bugler who is his signalman, and the flagbearer, the flag blowing fiercely in the wind above him. You know who is coming, and you are very glad to see them!
 
2. In battles of the old style, on foot or on horseback, the flag was a rallying point
 
It had to keep flying as long as the battle raged.
In The Red Badge of Courage, the film version of the classic American novel of the same name, the climactic scene is on a Civil War battlefield. The flag bearer is hit and goes down; two other young soldiers grab for  the flagstaff and struggle briefly for the privilege of being the flagbearer, On one level neither of them wants it because the flagbearer was a prime target of enemy fire, but on another level they both want it    because they   know that somebody has to do it. If the bugler sounded the call to colors and the flag was on the ground, there could be no rally because no one would know where to rally   The primary reason for the rally was not to cheer up the troops, though it often did that, but to regroup,   redeploy, or retreat if necessary. 
 
What makes the scene in the movie  especially memorable is that the young men  were played by two of the best-known veterans of World War II. Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier in history, who, before he was twenty-one, had singlehandedly brought down hundreds of the enemy under impossibly difficult battle conditions. Bill Mauldin was the soldier-cartoonist who had lifted the morale of his comrades with his cartoon soldiers Willie and Joe.  
 
The actors understood the scene they were playing.  Audie Murphy starred in many action movies, but no scene he ever played was more memorable for me than this one, with him on one knee,  not clutching a weapon but using both hand to keep   the flagstaff upright and the flag flying.    As long as the flag was flying, his comrades on the field would know that the battle was not lost. If the call to colors sounded they would know where to rally.
    
Yes, we'll rally round the flag, boys
Rally once again,
Shouting the Battle Cry of Freedom
We will rally from the hillside
We'll gather from the plains,
Shouting the Battle Cry of Freedom!
 
 
3. It marked a territorial claim. 
 
One of my memories when we moved to Canada was the absence of the Stars and Stripes, reminding us daily that, though Canada was our home, and a good one, there was a  sense that we were not fully at home. 
 
We have enshrined a national memory of territorial claim in our national anthem. Fort Henry belonged to the United States as long as the Stars and Stripes flew above its ramparts.. Francis Scott Key kept watch through the night aboard a ship in the harbor. and wrote the words heard a thousand times on this holiday:"The rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that the flag was still there!"
             
 

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