WASHINGTON, June 14, 2010 — Military personnel at Dover Air Force Base, Del., performed their duties with solemn respect over the past several weeks as U.S. servicemembers killed in Afghanistan returned to U.S. soil.
Military “carry teams” marched in slow, measured steps as they carried their fallen comrades from the aircraft and transferred them to awaiting mortuary transfer vehicles.
The fallen servicemembers – representing all services, all ranks and every corner of America – all returned home in transfer cases draped in the American flag.
Today, the United States observes National Flag Day, an annual tribute to the American flag, the ideals it stands for and the sacrifices made to preserve them.
President Woodrow Wilson recognized during his first Flag Day address in 1915 that the freedoms the U.S. flag stands for weren’t and never would be free.
“The lines of red are lines of blood, nobly and unselfishly shed by men who loved the liberty of their fellowship more than they loved their own lives and fortunes,” he said. “God forbid that we should have to use the blood of America to freshen the color of the flag.”
But American blood has spilled time and time again to preserve American liberties, most recently, in Afghanistan.
Just as during heartbreaking ramp ceremonies in Afghanistan before fallen servicemembers return, and during dignified-transfer ceremonies at Dover, history is filled with examples of how the flag has inspired Americans through their proudest as well as darkest days as a symbol of patriotism, strength and resilience.
It provided strength to now-retired Air Force Col. David M. Roeder as he and more than 50 other Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days from 1979 to 1980 watched their captors taunt them by carrying garbage wrapped in the U.S. flag.
“When someone attacks the American flag, it’s because they recognize all that it represents and the greatness of this country,” Roeder said, thinking back over the experience. It inspired retired Marine Chief Warrant Officer Charles W. “Bill” Henderson as he watched the flag-draped remains of Marine Cpl. Robert V. McMaugh carried from the rubble after the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983.
“Yes, it is just a piece of cloth,” Henderson later reflected. “But what it represents are the lives of thousands of Americans who have given everything for this nation – who ask nothing in return but felt an obligation of duty to their country.”
Few Americans will forget their shared sense of pride as they watched televised images of three firefighters raising an American flag over the World Trade Center ruins just hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Army Capt. Joe Minning and his fellow New York Army National Guardsmen, many of them New York City firemen and police officers, were sifting through the rubble in a desperate search for survivors that day when they paused to watch Old Glory rise. “Seeing the flag raised above all of the rubble and ruins of the World Trade Center instilled a new sense of pride in me for our country,” Minning recalled.
The flag continued to inspire Minning and tens of thousands of other U.S. servicemembers during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In April, it provided strength to Sal Corma, who left his hospital bed following a stroke and amputation against his doctor’s orders to see the body of his son, Army 1st Lt. Salvatore S. Corma II, who had been killed in Afghanistan, arrive at Dover at 2 a.m. on an April morning. Less than three weeks ago, he and his wife, Trudy, recognized a Memorial Day that had taken on a deeply personal meaning by placing 60 American flags around their home.
Today, as operations intensify in Afghanistan, troops at Forward Operating base Baylough in Afghanistan’s Zabul province have an enduring reminder of the ideals they are fighting for. High on their observation post overlooking a mountain value, standing proudly amid a pile of sandbags, Old Glory waves in the breeze.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)