To the editor:
I am deeply saddened. I attended the Grand Olde West Days parade Saturday. People lined the route, fire trucks, floats, tractors and participants young and old, including candidates for the upcoming elections, attended. Traffic was rerouted to furnish a safe travel route. Cross streets were blocked, crowds gathered, and police vehicles led and followed the entrants.
Still, I was saddened, maybe even appalled. See, I led that parade right behind the first police car. I am Old Glory, the American flag, the colors of our nation.
Some of those who have served in previous conflicts carried my brother flags and me in the lead honor detail. As my carrier and the others struggled to keep us upright, standing tall in the gusty wind conditions, a lot of the crowd just sat like posts in their chairs or on the curb, or leaned against parked cars and/or buildings. Most of the crowd probably left their homes much before the announced 4:30 start time to claim their chosen vantage spot along the route, whether in the shade or at the beginning so they could leave early or be near their places of business or local eateries.
As I approached, many school-aged children rose, stood tall and placed their hands over their hearts; many families that have taught respect for their flag did, as well. God bless those with little or gray hair because they stood, doffed their hats and covered their hearts, and I think I actually saw a tear or two.
However, many of the crowd, maybe most of the crowd, just casually stayed put in their staked-out places and kept their buttocks firmly planted in whatever comfortable position they chose to remain.
I guess that's a freedom you have guaranteed. I surmise that's a freedom of choice, a freedom that so many have died under my colors to preserve in the great wars of the past, and many are serving under while in harm's way right now. Those who did or are defending that freedom to have that choice, to be lax in concern -- or is it just plain ignorance of proper flag etiquette.
I was carried over a mile in strong winds to lead a parade in a country free to observe whatever pastime pursuit we choose. You could not even bother to go and observe the parade. All I ask is, "Would it hurt for just 30 seconds or so to rise, to pay respect to the flag and to honor those who have died on the battlefield, on the seas or in the air, died on foreign shores or are dying today so that our streets are safe, allowing us to gather without worrying, or even thinking about a car bomb or suicide bomber, driving up or walking into our midst with their only desire, to wreak havoc on an innocent civilian gathering."
The final decision, of course, is yours. That decision is to stand and offer respect or to ignore proper flag protocol. The freedom, which allows that decision, was made by a generation that gave their lives, or struggle with their demons from past conflicts, or have succumbed to health conditions and finally passed away.
Ironically, on May 20, more than 500 people gathered at Craig City Park to honor Hometown Heroes and stood in line for 30 to 40 minutes to get a free hamburger or hot dog.
All I ask is that you take 30 to 40 seconds as I approach and pass to acknowledge me, and by doing so, acknowledge those who have died, served, or are serving under me now who have protected and continue to protect our way of life.
There is a huge positive to this article, though. When we change from Victory Way to climb that last hill on Ledford Street, there is a marked change in the respect I receive. Along that stretch every year, there is applause, people standing upright, hats removed and hands over their hearts, and finally, there are those at the senior centers struggling to get from their chairs to their walkers and pulling their oxygen bottles to stand and honor their flag as it passes.
They know the impact and hardships of a global war and yet, they stand to honor the symbol of this country.
My heart always quickens there. I feel appreciated, and those old warriors who carry me pick up their pace, they stand taller and even suck in their stomachs and march again, with pride.
Next year when I return, flying free in the wind, maybe that moment of recognition will be standard for the whole parade route and not the exception.
From the perspective of Old Glory
By Bill Harding and other members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion