I’ve been to the moon. I’ve been burned. But more often I’m honored. I’m your American flag.
I was first flown at Fort Stanwix in New York in 1777 – and then carried into battle for the first time at Brandywine in Pennsylvania. By war’s end, I was saluted as the emblem of a sovereign nation.
But challenges lay ahead. I survived shock and shell at Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814. With the aid of rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air, I was spied from afar at dawn’s early light by a patriot poet.
Fifty years later, I was saddened to see a divided nation. But by war’s end, Lincoln’s words at Gettyburg prevailed – a unique nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. But that pledge was yet to be fully fulfilled.
I survived mustard gas and ghastly death in European trenches in WWI and was hoisted by six soldiers on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima in WWII.
I was carried into battle in Korea, waved more proudly on flagpoles at home as civil rights and women’s rights rose, and was saluted by a boy as the horse-drawn caisson with his father’s casket passed by on our capital’s streets.
I lost sons and daughters in Vietnam and witnessed renewed conflict about taking me to faraway lands like Iraq and Afghanistan – an issue still troubling us today.
When our nation celebrated its bicentennial birthday in 1976, I was there. When people parade on the Fourth of July and other occasions, I generally lead the parade. As I pass by, children often stand at attention and salute me while their parents or a grandmother might tear up in memory of a loved one who served in uniform and didn’t make it home.
Often I stand silently in the corner of a meeting hall or classroom – though far fewer of them nowadays. I’ve fallen from favor for some incensed by our government’s actions. But I suffer silently when abused or defiled for I represent all of our rights, including protesting and speaking our minds.
Though I spend most of my time at home, I represent us around the globe at various foreign outposts. And those row upon row of white crosses above the cliffs of Normandy and elsewhere where we left our honored dead are often decorated with my colors.
But most of all I represent the American spirit, the indomitable demand and yearning for freedom, excellence and opportunity. I am not the flag of a regime or royal family. I represent rights emanating from a transcendent authority honored on our coinage.
Look up to me as you salute or stand at attention. Pledge yourself to fulfill lofty goals symbolized by my heavenly sky-blue field for 50 stars. With red for valor and zeal and white for hope and purity, look up and salute with pride what the patriot poet hailed as a worthy star-spangled banner.
May it forever wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave.
James F. Burns is a retired professor at the University of Florida.