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Why We Should Stand When the American Flag Passes By

Carolyn worked as a technical writer, software user interface designer, and as a gig writer way before it was hip.

This Texas-sized flag was flapping in the breeze on the shores of the Mississippi River in MacGregor, Iowa.

This Texas-sized flag was flapping in the breeze on the shores of the Mississippi River in MacGregor, Iowa.

They Played Taps

On the Air Force base where I worked at the chow hall as a civilian cashier, and where my dad was stationed for several years, they played Taps, every day, at 5 pm sharp. The familiar tune rings out on a coronet, recorded and replayed on the loudspeaker for everyone to hear. My memory is of a scratchy-sounding vinyl record player blasting over a loudspeaker, followed by the tune that goes with these words:

Day is done,

Gone the sun,

From the lakes,

From the hills,

From the sky,

All is well,

Safely rest,

God is nigh

I was 16 or 17 years old, and I vividly remember an American Flag, officers in dress uniform, and this song blaring over the loudspeaker. During the winter months when the sun sunk early in the evening sky, this song would play as the clouds turned shades of firy orange, sometimes red or violet. And the flag would descend into the hands of gloved officers, who were very serious about the entire matter. They folded the flag, carefully and with decorum, first into long rectangles, and then finally into a triangle. They carried it like a sacred object to complete the ceremony.

My father was an enlisted man in the Air Force, and we were instructed to respect the flag. This meant pulling the car to the side of the road, wherever we were, until Taps ended. My shift at the cafeteria sometimes coincided with Taps, and this memory, having occurred repeatedly, is seared into my mind. I stopped for the flag many times.

My life is now very different. While I will always and forever be an Air Force brat, I have a civilian life and never visit the base. My father retired from the military over 16 years ago, and my husband is a civilian. But I still try to honor the flag. Doing so is part of who I am.

On several occasions in the small town where I live, we have encountered the American Flag in parades, special memorial services, and the like. One of these parades is the annual Gold Rush parade which is part of a community celebration in February. The parade opens with the Stars and Stripes (the American flag), usually carried by police or veterans' organizations. The parade, which usually includes over 100 entries, opens with a sense of decorum, and as the flag passes, I instruct my family to stand up, cover their hearts with their right hand, and remove their hats. I choke back the tears as I watch the flag pass. So many memories are conjured every time I see that red, white, and blue symbol of America.

I look around at my fellow parade-goers. They remain seated, ignoring the flag, or remain uncomfortably uncommitted about honoring the flag in a traditional sense. A few older people, in their 60s and 70s, also remain seated. I am surprised.

Later on in the parade, a realtor-friend comes by with his hands full of small-sized American Flags on sticks, made for waving with patriotic enthusiasm. He hands one to my daughter, who enjoys it for a while, and then starts to lose intrerest in it. I remind her not to drop the flag or let it touch the ground.

Behind me, an older man is tallying the number of horses that have passed on his parade pamphlet, and his friend loudly comments about my instructions to my family. He says "It's refreshing to see a parent teach their kids about the flag." I am proud for a moment, but sad at the same time. I shouldn't be the exception.

Standing for the flag is not about an empty and thoughtless patriotism. It is a symbol of all the hopeful things America stands for.

Standing for the flag is not about an empty and thoughtless patriotism. It is a symbol of all of the hopeful things America stands for. It is symbolic of freedoms that many people in our world covet, despite our country's numberless problems, deep idealistic chasms, economic troubles, and corrupt politicians.

By standing for the flag, I honor my country, and those who attempt to serve it in so many ways. By standing for the flag, I remember those who died as part of the American military, or in other capacities, trying to establish or preserve freedoms, whether in Boston in 1776 or Vietnam in 1971, or in the more controversial and unpopular conflicts our country engages in today. By standing up for the flag, I honor the widows and orphans of deceased soldiers, and the children and wives who grow up without mothers and fathers, sacrificing their family ties so their parents can serve their country in a variety of capacities.

To me, standing for the flag is not a political expression of support for the military or a particular political party, nor is it an expression of aggressive jingoism. To me, it is a deep acknowledgment of my privileged existence in America. Not the "wow, we're superior in every way" type of privilege that is so off-putting to non-Americans, but more like "wow, I'm glad I don't have to wear a burka and can read and say and think and do pretty much what I want." Standing shows gratitude and respect for the people who have tried to preserve this place we still call the "land of the free." Standing for the flag shows I still believe in America and her possibilities.

Let's not forget what the American Flag represents. Photo credit  David Gaylor

Let's not forget what the American Flag represents. Photo credit David Gaylor

This small-town cemetery in Lowden, Iowa has an incredible display of American flags. It is a must see.

This small-town cemetery in Lowden, Iowa has an incredible display of American flags. It is a must see.

American flags honoring fallen veterans on Memorial Day.

American flags honoring fallen veterans on Memorial Day.

Taps Bugler Arlington National Cemetery

Flag Etiquette

© 2008 Carolyn Augustine

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