Remember the importance of Flag Day

June 11, 2024

There is a small beach neighborhood in Rhode Island near Narraganset Bay. There is an easement to the beach where the two modest homes flank the 30-foot path with colorful perennials and whimsical ornaments peeking among the flowers. One spring afternoon, my brother walked from his home to the beach with his beach chair and a book. Lost in his book, he realized the sun was about to set. As he walked back to the easement, he witnessed the homeowner taking down the American flag. “Military man for sure,” my brother thought. As a vet, he understood the protocol. The men nodded and smiled.

June 14 is Flag Day. It commemorates the adoption of the U.S. flag. In 1916, President Wilson officially established Flag Day. There are flag guidelines that military, government and education establishments follow. Clearly the Narraganset man still does. As ordinary citizens, we can at the very least follow the basic etiquette which the flag deserves. 

Flag desecration laws date back to 1907 in a variety of states. In 1990, the Supreme Court took on Texas v. Johnson. Johnson was arrested under Texas law for burning the flag outside a Dallas city building. Johnson was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay $2,000. This was a very unusual majority, where the court voted 5-4 in favor of Johnson. Justice Rehnquist said in dissent, “I cannot agree that the First Amendment invalidates the act of Congress, and the laws of 48 of the 50 states, which make criminal the public burning of the flag.”

I do not take the U.S. Constitution lightly and I respect freedom of speech. After all, without it I would not be able to share my opinion on a Cape Gazette page without threat of imprisonment and the newspaper shutting down. Conversely, I disagree with the ruling when it comes to desecrating the flag  My opinion is the flag should not be used as a prop or dragged on steps or declared ownership for only some of the people. My neighbor and I have diametrically opposed policy views, but we always agree on the respect of the U.S. flag. It isn’t my flag or his flag, it is our flag. It has always been our flag. We pledge allegiance to the flag as one nation. The very least we can do is understand the history that affords us the cherished democracy for which the flag stands. My father saw the U.S. flag on Utah Beach in Normandy 80 years ago declaring an alliance of nations defending democracy. My brother, a Vietnam veteran, saw the U.S. flag still waving in the Twin Towers courtyard when he and his boss carried Father Judge, the FDNY chaplin, out of the south tower lobby after the north tower collapsed on 9/11. The entire nation unified, flying flags recognizing democracy’s fragility.

Now, in his twilight years, the Narragansett man continues his ritual. My brother helps him prevent the flag from touching the ground. He helps him fold the flag properly. They do it in silence. They do it in reverence. Remember this on Flag Day.

Kerry Russo
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