"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
These are empty words if recited without thought. Worse yet, if ignored, show a lack of knowledge or appreciation for the countless sacrifices made by countless people of our nation, for this is the meaning behind the flag. When we face or fly the flag, it is not honoring a piece of fabric, one person, or the government. Rather, it is a promise to play an individual role as a responsible citizen to contribute to our nation's goodness as "we the people," while at the same time remembering those who did so before us.
Although not Flag Day, before we know it, June will be here and fourth graders across the county will have had the opportunity to share their feelings about our flag through short essays in a competition sponsored by the American Legion. Like last year, space in this column may be given so that their fresh and patriotic thoughts can be shared with a wider audience. It is during these weeks of spring that a small group of veterans from the Legion voluntarily visit each and every school in the north and south parts of the county to give a presentation about our nation's flag and to give details about the competition. This group recently came to Fredonia Central School with Vice Commander John Miga (Post 62), Stan Kawski (Post 434), Walt Sedlmayer (Post 59) and Commander Ron Bouquin (Post 59).
Fourth-graders at Fredonia Central School recently enjoyed a presentation given by the American Legion about the history and meaning of our nation’s flag.
Part of the presentation includes two short videos. One depicts a boy who does not understand the meaning behind the flag, in part, shown by not removing his hat during a ball game when the national anthem is played. His older brother, a veteran and volunteer firefighter, along with an elderly neighbor, also a veteran, through patience and example eventually help to change the young boy's understanding of the meaning behind the flag. There are certain scenes where a tear or two has to be brushed away while watching it. Another animated video shows how a young school boy interprets the words to the Pledge of Allegiance and the meaning of the flag through various experiences including one by going back in time and seeing what happened in the era of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and thus also learning more about the history of the flag. The school presentation also reviews the specific meanings of such words as pledge, allegiance, republic, indivisible, liberty, and justice as well as the symbols used on the flag itself.
So what will fourth-grade essays have to say about "what the flag means to me?" For many people of any age, thoughts about this may include personal ones such as the great, great grandfather who never came home from the Civil War with no record of what really happened to him. Maybe it's the grandfather who endured the "bloody march" in World War I or the father who was present when his unit liberated a concentration camp in World War II. Maybe it's the brother who witnessed the casualties from the explosion on his aircraft carrier while serving in Vietnam. Then there are the ancestors who came from Ireland with nothing but the will to work to make better lives for themselves and labored on the Erie Canal, those from England who carved out a life in the rugged forests of Maine in the 1600s, the Germans who toiled on family farms, those who came from Mexico at the turn of the century and worked in the steel mills, and more recently, those who have had careers that clean up environmental oil spills, educate school children, and most of all throughout every generation, have in love tried to raise responsible, respectful, and faithful children.
Take just these few examples from our own family, but then multiply them thousands of times over and over to represent all Americans, and it is overwhelmingly evident that the flag "of the people" represents the countless sacrifices and contributions of millions of citizens over the past years. Hard working and self-reliant people with perseverance have made our country strong. Hardships endured, even in the face of discrimination and persecution for religious, ethnic or racial reasons have all left an indelible mark on our country and have contributed to who we are today. A perfect country we are not, but who else can come close to a truly inspired Constitution that protects inherent rights and treasures liberty and justice? Although this may give the right to not remove a hat or stand for the pledge, most would enthusiastically choose to do so when the words to the pledge and the meaning behind the flag are more fully personalized and contemplated. As said by one president, "Seeing the flag is seeing people." It's a way to respectfully say, "We remember."
Make it a good week and find thankful reasons for those in your own family, present and past, who toiled and sacrificed to contribute to our country's strength.