Flag of my Father

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The recent protest during the National Anthem by NFL players “taking a knee” was brought to my attention during last year’s football season. This protest occurred again at a preseason game and has continued to grow. As an analyst, I put my personal feelings aside collecting the data. As an American it is impossible to do so.

The right to peacefully protest is granted to all American citizens under the 1st amendment. Most of us are aware of this. The reason for the protest was summed up by NFL player Colin Kaepernick, of the 49ers, who engaged in protest at a preseason game against the Packers. He is quoted as saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” More recently, the number of players taking a knee has increased. Players and fans have begun joining arms in a coalition supporting those in protest of the National Anthem.

Like many of you, this is a personal issue for me. If I try to take Colin’s perspective, I can. None of us want to see innocent people hurt, be it by police apprehension, or otherwise. I also understand that any time you put weapons and people together, there is an assumed risk someone could get hurt. No one would argue there is a great deal of responsibility in carrying a weapon and being asked to serve others. I think where the argument comes in; Colin has made a generalization that all police officers target people of color and America allows this to continue. Further raising the debate, the National Anthem, NFL football and our “flag,” now serve as a platform for communicating this concern.

As I said, this is a personal issue for me. My father was awarded the Silver Star for “gallantry” in action during World War II. He was wounded in France, receiving the Purple Heart. These citations, of little consolation, speak to his extensive military career during World War II. His life after the war, when I knew him, speaks to the ways in which his war experiences never ended.   His sacrifice for our country never ended. He brought the war home with him and it became part of his soul.

Along with my father’s military experiences, I have a brother who served in Vietnam, though he rarely speaks of it. I have a brother-in-law, like a brother to me, who served the US Army in Afghanistan as a Medic. I’ve another brother-in-law with a lengthy Air Force career in Munitions. My son-in-law served in Iraq and I have multiple nephews who’ve served as well. I am of a military culture. Maybe it is this culture that makes what Colin began by taking a knee so hard for me to accept and wrap my brain around.

I had to ask myself as I often do, “What would dad say?” I think that dad would commend Colin and other American’s right to protest. He fought, witnessing the deaths of his comrades in arms, to uphold this right. What I think my dad might take issue with, which I also take issue with, are the symbols Colin and other athletes used as their platform for protest and their position as a paid American entertainer to do so. Colin and I agree on one very important point. This issue is about so much more than just football.

The first symbol Colin used in protest is an obvious one, the American Flag. I’m not sure what Colin understands about this symbol, but the Flag is not singularly representing any one public entity; police, firemen, or the military. It is used to distinguish service men and women who offer us their protection. Often at a cost of the ultimate sacrifice; their life. It also does not discriminate people of color, from any other American’s. The flag is a living breathing symbol that represents the American freedoms of every citizen of this great country, including yours Colin.   It is this very symbol, fought and won by many warriors, which gives you the right to protest. It is this symbol which gives you the right to play football and our right to join in watching you.

When the flag is used in protest, police and law enforcement are not the only ones disrespected.   Every American citizen and those that fight to uphold our rights are disrespected. The American Constitution and the freedoms it provides are disrespected. The fans which pay athlete’s wages and provide them with a work place, often expensive stadiums, are disrespected. Maybe worst of all, protests using the flag and anthem bring political controversy to a game loved by Americans.

This protest, thought by those in protest to bring attention to police brutality, only serves to divide us as a nation on the issues of protesting by use of our flag. I can’t speak for other Americans, but I might be tempted to walk out of a game in protest, when confronted with their method of protest. I certainly would not buy a ticket twice to witness it and contribute to their income. Your right, it is not about football at all, it is about flag etiquette and respecting one another.

Although I know that the flag represents each of us as American’s, for me, the flag is my father. It is every conversation we ever had. Every drive we ever took. It is every dreamed reenactment of war he ever had. It is the names of the soldier’s he called out in his nightmares. The men who served under his command and his “Army buddies,” the men he couldn’t save. Those he felt deep respect and responsibility to, because that was the kind of man he was. It is the survivor’s guilt he carried in his gut till it was rotten with ulcers. The blood he could never wash off his hands. The invisible shrapnel from his exploding helmet; that even my small fingers could not pull from his skull. The rages he suffered triggered by house flies in the kitchen, reminding him of corpses stacked at concentration camps. The recollection of rotting flesh, that made his skin crawl and welt with itch.

When I see the Flag, yes Flag with a capital letter, as if it had a name. I am moved to touch it, smell it, and lay my heart against it; as I once lay against his chest as his child. Often though, I just sit in the company of the flag feeling his presence. Feeling it calm us both. For me, the flag has a heartbeat and is a physical extension of a man I loved. It is the good, the beautiful and the ugly reminders of his life. It is comforting, encouraging, strengthening and sad. It’s the bandaged scrapes and warm fatherly hugs. It is the survival training; fishing and scavenging. Etching a life worth living with little to no resources because he sacrificed those to protect others. The flag is my father. It is not, Flags of our Fathers. It is, Thee Flag of my Father. It symbolizes a personal and intimate relationship between a father and his daughter.

I don’t expect Colin or other NFL players or fans to understand. I don’t expect them to know that taking a knee for the flag is the epitome of spiting on my father. It is the sum of slander. It is the lowest form of disrespect. I don’t expect them to stand with the same attention I have or feel a deep seeded responsibility to sing the National Anthem. I understand my experiences are not their own. That my feelings are based upon a personal relationship, the culture of my family, responsibility, courage, dignity, character, integrity, duty and honor. I don’t expect them to understand that to men like my father, these are not just words. These words exemplify their actions and a way of life. I don’t expect them to “get it.” However, if I could ask them, it would be nice if they saved their protest for places most of us protest using their own personalized symbols, not ones sacred to America. If they respected our perspectives, as I respect theirs. It would be nice if they simply opted out and made their political protest elsewhere on their own time and dime. If not, I am my father’s daughter. I will stand for the National Anthem commemorating my father and those like him. I will not speak or give them attention during the National Anthem.  At that moment, my attention is meant for better men and women. My eyes will be on the flag. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” I will watch them take a knee and I will pray for them as I think my father would have, “Lord forgive them, they know not what they do.”

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