Grand Old Flag

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The American flag is the most recognized symbol of freedom and democracy in the world. – Virginia Foxx

Last week the Student Association of University of California at Irvine voted to ban the U.S. flag from the association’s lobby wall. The resolution passed with a 6-4 vote, with two abstentions in a misguided effort to make their school “more inclusive”.

“Designing a culturally inclusive space aims to remove barriers that create undue effort and separation by planning and designing spaces that enable everyone to participate equally and confidentially”, read the resolution authored by Matthew Guevara. The resolution included language such as “paradigms of conformity” and “homogenized standards”. It stated, “The American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism. Flags not only serve as symbols of patriotism or weapons or nationalism, but also construct cultural mythologies and narratives that in turn charge nationalistic sentiments.” Sounds like someone has too much time on their hands and likes to look up big words in the dictionary.

Response, not only at UCI, but all over the country was swift. Protests sprang up on campus and the threat of violence loomed. Pictures of the students on the association board were plastered across social media and labeled traitors. The following day the Executive Cabinet of the student government vetoed the ban on the display of flags saying, “We fundamentally disagree with the actions taken by the Legislative Council and their ban is counter to the ideals that allow us to operate as an autonomous student government organization with the freedoms of speech and expression associated with it.

I am not ashamed to say I am patriotic. When televisions used to sign off at midnight by playing the National Anthem I always stood up and placed my hand over my heart if I happened to be up that late. On my first day as a Federal USDA employee the first thing my supervisor did was to take me out to stand under the American flag and recite this oath:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

I continued that tradition with the employees I had the honor to swear in. I believed it was important for them to understand the sacred trust that public servants hold when they work for the government.

At the age of 57 I volunteered to go to Afghanistan to assist with reconstruction and stabilization efforts. I did it because I love my country. I wanted to give back some of the many blessings that I have enjoyed living in the land of the free and the home of the brave. At the Embassy I was a member of the Star Spangled Singers. We sang patriotic songs at events and for visiting dignitaries. Each time we sang the “Star Spangled Banner” it thrilled me to look out over the crowd and see people singing along, their hand over their heart. One of the most touching things I saw was a young Afghan National Army soldier standing at attention in his neatly pressed uniform at the changing of troops at Forward Operating Base Morales Frazier. The ceremony involves playing the Afghanistan National anthem and raising the Afghan flag. Next the French anthem is played and the French flag is raised. Then the American anthem and flag follow suit. This young soldier, with a ramrod straight back, maintained his crisp salute through all three anthems and flag raisings. Now that is respect.

Embassies throughout the world are considered to be on the soil of their home country. At the U.S. Embassy in Kabul I walked by the American flag every day. It meant I was on American soil and that comforted me through the hardest and scariest of times. It made me proud to see it flying because it represents the best of America – pride, honor, sacrifice and most importantly, freedom. The flag stands on a patch of grass that has granite plaques to honor civilians who have been killed in Afghanistan, including one from USDA. I have seen it lowered to half-mast on more than one ceremony for fallen comrades. On July 4th, 2011 hundreds of small American flags were placed around the Embassy grounds. This is the day our locally employed Afghan staff could bring their families to the Embassy for a celebration. At the end of the day, every flag had been taken as treasured memento. To them it represented hope.

I believe in free speech and the students at UCI certainly have the right to say the U.S. flag offends them, but they do not have the right to remove the flag from a publically funded school. When I look at the flag I see the blood of thousands of men and women who have died to defend the principles it stands for. I see immigrants pledging their allegiance as they gain their citizenship. I see grief in a mother’s face as she is given the flag from her child’s coffin before he or she is laid to rest having been killed in the line of duty as a police officer. The flag is a powerful reminder of the high price of freedom and I will always be proud to display and honor it. The flag that some despise are given the privilege to do so by the great country over which it flies.

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