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Oh, Say Can You See?

By Linda Stockton

I am an Air Force wife. For twenty years, I traveled the world with my husband and family, following orders and living where we were told, defending our country as we committed to doing. Whether we were tucked into a secret base somewhere in the Scottish highlands, going about raising our kids in the Deep South of the U.S., or in one of many transient quarters anywhere in the world, there was a constant. At the end of the day, taps were played, the American flag was lowered and the national anthem was played. My children, all grown now, to this day have great respect for our flag and anthem and when hearing the first strains of “Oh,say can you see?…” stop what they are doing. They stand still, look for the flag with their hands over their hearts and reflect on their freedoms. You will see this occur on American military bases throughout the world today. It is an almost reverent moment as cars stop, a conversation is halted and people stand in respect for all that these things symbolize for us as Americans.

We retired from the military over a decade ago. At my husband’s retirement ceremony, a flag was folded, and in great respect and gratitude the following words were spoken,

“For more than 200 years, the American flag has been the symbol of our nation’s unity, as well as a source of pride and inspiration for millions of citizens.

Born on June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress determined that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternating between seven red and six white; and that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.

Between 1777 and 1960, the shape and design of the flag evolved into the flag presented before you today. The 13 horizontal stripes represent the original 13 colonies, while the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. The colors of the flag are symbolic as well; red symbolizes hardiness and valor; white signifies purity and innocence; and blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

Traditionally, a symbol of liberty, the American flag has carried the message of freedom, and inspired Americans, both at home and abroad.

In 1814, Francis Scott Key was so moved at seeing the Stars and Stripes waving after the British shelling of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry that he wrote the words to The Star Spangled Banner.

In 1892 the flag inspired Francis Bellamy to write the “Pledge of Allegiance,” our most famous flag salute and patriotic oath.

In July 1969 the American flag was “flown” in space when Neil Armstrong planted it on the surface of the moon.

Today, our flag flies on constellations of Air Force satellites that circle our globe, and on the fin flash of our aircraft in harm’s way in every corner of the world. Indeed, it flies in the heart of every Airman who serves our great Nation. The sun never sets on our US Air Force, nor on the flag we so proudly cherish.

Since 1776 no generation of Americans has been spared the responsibility of defending freedom… Today’s Airmen remain committed to preserving the freedom that others won for us, for generations to come.

By displaying the flag and giving it a distinctive fold we show respect to the flag, and express our gratitude to those individuals who fought, and continue to fight for freedom, at home and abroad. Since the dawn of the 20th century, Airmen have proudly flown the flag in every major conflict on lands and skies around the world. It is their responsibility … our responsibility … to continue to protect and preserve the rights, privileges, and freedoms that we, as Americans, enjoy today.

The United States flag represents who we are. It stands for the freedom we all share and the pride and patriotism we feel for our country. We cherish its legacy, as a beacon of hope to one and all. Long may it wave.”

This folded flag, flown over the nation’s capital, was then presented to him in thanks for his service. We count this gift as one of our most cherished possessions. But more than that, we cherish all that it represents. It symbolizes our hard-won liberty, our freedoms and our independence from tyranny. It represents the equality of man and God-given rights to decide for oneself the path their lives will take. It represents the freedom to choose. We can choose to honor this symbol and afford it, our country, and our constitution the absolute honor and respect they deserve. But, because we are guaranteed that right of choice, we can choose to desecrate it as well. That is what is meant by “with liberty and justice for all.” One simply cannot legislate another’s conscience or choice. To do so is Un-American. No matter how much we disagree, we are all free to choose. The freedom of expression is at the very heart of Americanism. It is a large part of what makes us exceptional.

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