USA — Flag Day Honors American Ideals, Sacrifices

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.

National Flag Day
Mem­bers of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force and senior offi­cials from the U.S. Embassy in Kab­ul, Afghanistan, pay their respects to nine U.S. sol­diers killed in Nuris­tan province dur­ing a ramp cer­e­mo­ny at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
State Depart­ment pho­to by Daniel Wilkin­son
Click to enlarge

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)