I will not pledge allegiance to any flag, but I will stand with my hand over my heart when the Pledge of Allegiance is spoken. I love my country. I am patriotic, which astoundingly means that I love peace and pray for an end to all war, not just wars concerning the U.S., but across the globe. Afterall, America allows me the luxury of freedom of ideas and speech, and I recognize people have given their lives for my freedom. I am so very thankful to live in a location where I don't lay down my head in fear each night that ferocious bombs will cave in the roof overhead and land on my sleeping children's beds. My greatest worries of the day have been weeding the overgrown monkey grass from my trellis of climbing pink roses arched over the grey sidewalk and choosing a new paint greenish pale blue color for my bedroom.
Last evening, I took my yearly sobering American experience like a dose of bitter liquid by placing flags in the Lenoir City Cemetary on the graves of war veterans alongside my sons. It's something my Boyscouts do annually for Memorial Day.
A tall thin somewhat curved man, a veteran in a ball cap and jeans, with a kind yet low and scruffy voice, met us there as usual with his pick up truck to hand out bundles of red, white, and blues neatly tucked in rows on the truck bed. His voice made the listener want to clear his or hear throat while he is talking in an effort to free the frog which must have been hopelessly trapped deep inside his neck. The question which I silently ask myself about him goes something like this, "Does he remember the horrors of war? Does he suffer now from them?" Aloud I asked, "May I have a stack o' flags, please?" I was a little surprised he remembered me as there are so many of us who come back time after time to participate, "Mam, I know you've done this before, so you don't need me to explain."
Most graves were very well kept, but there are a few which required weeding and brushing off in order to verify markings such as Veitnam, Korea, WW I, WW II, Armed Forces, Navy, Airforce, Marine. Our thirsty national drought had made poking the pointy wooden end of the short poles into the dry compacted dirt a more difficult task than usual. Each time I struggled to push the flag into the hard rusty earth, I spoke to myself through the lump in my throat, "Thank you for your service, sir. You've made my America a better place."
Every grave needed to be read to be sure no veteran was missed. I kept to myself wandering through the cemetary, knowing sometimes head or footstones undo me- I wiped tears without making a raucous. One grave for a child read, "See you in the morning." I couldn't help but think about the mother of that child who may have spoken those words for the last time as they lowered her child's coffin into the ground. I thought of all the daunting mornings since in which the mother woke up wishing she could hear her daughter's soft singing or feel the curve of her small body during a bedtime story just once more. Will that illusive morning ever come again?
Another granite stone I came upon belonged to a veteran who died fairly recently. I realized mine would be the first Memorial Day flag to reside at his grave. The grass hadn't fully grown over the length of his casket, and I felt the flag easily sink down beside the marker. I do hope he died proud of the service he gave to his country. To me and mine.
"Thank you" are not adequate words for all you American military people, but it's what I have to sincerely offer. Your lives and deaths matter to me.