On the patio, John stood at the grill, his flag apron flapping gently in the breeze as he stood watch over his burgers. The table was spread with red, white, and blue linens. A few feet away a second table contained condiments, utensils, and brightly colored plates, cups, and bowls. Fruit, cakes, pies, veggie trays, and packs of buns staggered throughout. I sighed and looked back at the sky.
Half a dozen children were giggling and playing in the sandbox and on the swing at the far back of the yard. My lounge chair was near the side yard, between the house and the play area. I could relax here, in slight solitude with my book, currently on a small table at my elbow, and a glass of iced tea. Eventually, chaos would ensue, once the children decided they wanted the sprinklers on. My own children were inside watching a movie while their children enjoyed the more common pursuits of a summer holiday.
I looked at the flag flying high over my house. It was such a beautiful thing. John had insisted on a flag pole that was higher than the roof. Upon his return from Vietnam he'd been disillusioned with his country, angry at her betrayal of the men who'd sacrificed their youth, their families, their health, and their lives because they elected leaders who didn't share their ideals. He had been one of the last sent over and one of the last to come home and had not experienced as much trauma as many of his friends. But it had been enough.
He'd left the military with bitterness and regret. But when the towers came down and the reaction of the country was indignation and swift reaction to terrorism on American soil, John had put up his flagpole and the Stars and Stripes flew over our home. For a time, it had flown over virtually every home in the country. It would always fly over whatever land John resided on. It has saddened him that much of the nation folded many of those flags and stuffed them in drawers, forgotten, like the men who fought for it for 200 years.
Now they were burning it and John was ready to go back to war, this time with his own nation. He was so sick of the disrespect and dishonor heaped on that flag hourly. The latest images on the news had nearly caused him to have a stroke. For days he'd stomped around the house, snapping at everyone who irritated him. Our oldest son lived up the street and was so worried about his father that he came everyday at sunset, when his dad took the flag down to assist him.
I watched him flip the burger and he turned to smile at the children and then, waved at me. I waved back.
I wondered what other people, non-military people, thought when they looked at military families. Did they see the fierce love of country it takes to serve for years in strange places where you have no family, no friends, no home?
Did they know the fear in those men as they sat in dark shacks, in strange lands where they were hated and despised and would be killed without a moment's thought? Did they know the grief they felt when they looked at the dirty, torn photos of their families?
Did they see the fear of the wives, sometimes husbands or parents, sending their loved ones to places from which they may never return? Did they know the terror of possibly never getting even a dead body back?
How could anyone even guess? We protected them from the realities. We never talked about it. We don't have marches, protests, parades spouting our fears, hates, and frustrations. We, the ones left behind fight as well. We, too, are the strong, the proud. Did those outside understand that we were lying awake at night praying that our husband or child would not drive over a bomb, get hit by missiles, shot by a sniper, or have their head cut off by an insane animal?
Did they even have a clue as to why we accepted the risks? Anyone would do it, right? We were Americans. We stand for all that is good and right. We fight when the oppressed won't fight for themselves. We die for people we owe nothing. Did they really think there was enough money in the world to compensate us? Did they really think we reaped enough financial benefit for all we dealt with to serve them?
Did they wonder what we see when we look at them? The ungrateful, the unappreciative, the criminals, the mobs of fools? No. We knew those existed. We did it for a land that was worth saving, that many had already died to shape. We did it to give hope to those who sought freedom and safety. We did it because there were some things worth fighting and dying for and this nation contains much of that within its borders. That despite the bad, it contained so much that was good.
I sighed. At least, it used to. I wasn't sure anymore. I think John was beginning to question it as well. Was anything worth fighting for anymore? We watched the things we'd held dear crumble, hatred burning up cities. And I watched my husband crumble with it. Men like him had bleed out in muddy fields around the world for that scrap of cloth on a pole and the people she represented. Now, those people would take her and turn her to ash. What fools.
My children poured out the back door, demanding food. My husband laughed and received the slaps on the back from hungry sons. Grandchildren raced to the tables. Mothers gathered their chicks under their wings. I watched and wondered.
Above it all she snapped in the breeze and I looked up. Our time of service was over but one never forgot the value of those who served and we never forget what that symbol represented. We knew the value of this nation as no one else. We knew what it cost in blood, tears, and grief. We knew as long as that lady flew, we could enjoy another 4th of July with our family.
Long may she wave. God bless America.