Proud to be your bea­con of free­dom

The Arizona Republic - - Opinions -

I’ve been to the moon. I’ve been burned. But more of­ten, I’m hon­ored. I’m your Amer­i­can flag.

With 13 stars for colonies clam­or­ing for free­dom, I was first flown at Fort Stan­wix in New York in 1777— then car­ried into bat­tle for the first time at Brandy­wine in Penn­syl­va­nia. By war’s end, I was saluted as the em­blem of a sovereign na­tion, new and free. I’m your Amer­i­can flag.

But chal­lenges lay ahead. With 15 stars and 15 stripes, I sur­vived shock and shell at Fort McHenry in Bal­ti­more in 1814. With the aid of rock­ets’ red glare and bombs burst­ing in air, I was spied from afar at dawn’s early light by a pa­triot poet. I was then cel­e­brated in sight and song by a fledg­ling na­tion. I’m your Amer­i­can flag.

A half cen­tury later and with 33 stars and 13 stripes, I was sad­dened to see our na­tion di­vided. Our broth­ers’ blood was spilled in bat­tle North and South. But by war’s end, Lin­coln’s iconic words at Get­tys­burg pre­vailed — a unique na­tion con­ceived in lib­erty and ded­i­cated to the propo­si­tion that all men are cre­ated equal. But that pledge was yet to be fully ful­filled.

I sur­vived mus­tard gas and ghastly death in Euro­pean trenches in World War I and, 48 stars strong, was hoisted by six sol­diers on Mount Surib­achi at Iwo Jima in World War II. I’m proud to be your Amer­i­can flag.

I was car­ried into bat­tle over frozen turf in Korea, waved more proudly on flag­poles here at home with civil rights and women’s rights ris­ing, and was saluted by a lit­tle boy as the horse-drawn cais­son with his fa­ther’s cas­ket passed by on the streets of our na­tion’s cap­i­tal. It was the best of times and the worst of times, but through it all, I was your Amer­i­can flag.

I lost sons and daugh­ters in the rice pad­dies and hellish jun­gles of Viet­nam, saw some suc­cumb to Agent Or­ange, and wit­nessed re­newed con­flict about tak­ing me, your Amer­i­can flag, to far­away lands like Iraq and Afghanistan. When and where war­fare should be waged is an is­sue still trou­bling us to­day.

When our na­tion cel­e­brated its bi­cen­ten­nial birth­day in 1976 — 200 af­ter declar­ing our in­de­pen­dence — I was there. When peo­ple pa­rade on the Fourth of July and other oc­ca­sions, I gen­er­ally lead the pa­rade. As I pass by, chil­dren along the pa­rade route of­ten stand at at­ten­tion and proudly salute me while their par­ents or a grand­mother be­hind them might have a tear rolling down their cheek in mem­ory of a loved one who served in uni­form and didn’t make it back home.

Of­ten I’m in­con­spic­u­ous, stand­ing silently in the corner of a meet­ing hall or class­room — though far fewer of them nowa­days. In­deed, I’ve fallen from fa­vor for some in­censed by ac­tions our gov­ern­ment takes. But I suf­fer in si­lence when abused or de­filed, for I rep­re­sent all of our rights, in­clud­ing protest­ing and speak­ing our minds.

I rep­re­sent us around the globe at var­i­ous for­eign out­posts, in­clud­ing mil­i­tary bases, em­bassies, and con­sulates.

And those row upon row of white crosses above the cliffs of Nor­mandy and else­where where we left our hon­ored dead are of­ten dec­o­rated with my colors of red, white, and blue.

Most of all, I rep­re­sent the Amer­i­can spirit, the in­domitable de­mand and yearn­ing for free­dom, ex­cel­lence, and op­por­tu­nity. I rep­re­sent rights em­a­nat­ing from a higher and tran­scen­dent author­ity hon­ored on our coinage.

Look up to me as you salute or stand at at­ten­tion. Pledge your­self to ful­fill lofty goals sym­bol­ized by my heav­enly sky­blue field for fifty stars. With red for valor and zeal and white for hope and pu­rity, look up and salute with pride what the pa­triot poet hailed as a wor­thy star-span­gled ban­ner. May it for­ever wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

James F. Burns is a re­tired pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Florida. The piece orig­i­nally ran on Flag Day 2016; Burns re-re­leased it this month. Email him at

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