My Name is Glory
In the summer of 2010, I started seeing flags everywhere. It was like when you buy a new car and then start seeing the same vehicle on every street you drive. The official name is the "Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon," also known as "frequency illusion." No matter the name, during that summer, flags were everywhere on everything.
I was shooting a lot of photos around the same time and decided to take pictures of the flags. I photographed it in all the forms and functions represented, leading me to neighborhoods and seeing how neighbors displayed their flag. On Memorial Day, there were picnics with flag designed cakes and red, white, and blue parfaits. I went to Cleveland, Ohio, and to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where flag bedecked electric guitars shared space with Elvis. And, to Washington, DC, where tourists wore the flag on hats, caps, visors, and t-shirts. The Boys Scouts had a jamboree, and their uniforms showed the flag on the right shoulder with stars on the left top corner and the bars running below.
I attended a conference for my newspaper union in Washington, DC, and had the privilege of going to the National Mall and seeing the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and ultimately to our most sacred ground, Arlington Cemetery. The Tomb Guard Quarters and The Sentinel's Creed reads in part, "It is he who commands the respect I protect. His bravery that made us so proud."
On Sunday, September 12, 2010, more than 700 Army National Guardsmen were leaving for foreign lands. The SNHU Arena was filled with families, friends, and well-wishers. Flags were everywhere. Shawne Wickham, the award-winning journalist at the Union Leader, wrote an article titled Godspeed, 197th. Shawne wrote, "They'll be away for Christmas, birthdays, family weddings, perhaps funerals." At the ceremony marking their departure, I watched a friend who is a vet and served as a flag bearer. I have a picture of him smiling at me as I snapped his photo. The men and women veterans honoring those who were leaving stood straight and proud. We were reminded the men and women, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, no matter the race or color, made up an all-volunteer military. And, yes, when you meet a veteran, you should say thank you for your service and sacrifice.
At one point, as I wandered around the arena looking for photos to take, I stood next to a soldier at the ceremony. I noticed the flag on her right shoulder. The flag was backward. She wore a military patch half black and half gray with a "W" on top and what appeared to be a three-pointed leaf below. If anyone knows what this patch signifies, I'd appreciate hearing from you. I didn't speak with her but went away, wondering why the flag was backward on the soldiers' uniforms. A Google search gave me the answer to the positioning question. The flag is positioned backward to give the effect the flag is flying in the breeze as they move forward, advance.
At a time when life seems to be at a standstill, symbolism matters. Ten years later, we are at a point in our lives where we seem to be locked in place. We quarantine because of COVID-19. We don't go back to schools. We don't play sports. We work from home. We mask-up to move about. But, the flag and how it flies in the breeze reminds us to keep moving, keep going forward, advance to 2021. Dozens of pharmaceutical companies are working on a vaccine. Their countless thousands of scientists are our soldiers working on a way out of this mess. One day, they will enable us to go forward, advance with the safety of health.
So, why am I reflecting on the flag a decade after my summer of flag frequency illusion? I saw a site the other day in a yard, and quite frankly, it nearly broke my heart. A flagpole in a neglected yard had a flag still hanging at the top of the pole. Only, there were years of neglect. Just about half of it was left. A red stripe survived, but the whites seemed to have been blasted away by winds and rain and weather. The blue field was unrecognizable. How could this have happened to our most enduring symbol of love and pride in our country?
Please know flags should be disposed of properly when it no longer represents the proper symbol of our country. They are to be folded, burned, and buried with honors. We have American Legion Post 109 at 21 Haverhill Road here in town, and those veterans will take your tattered flag and give Old Glory the proper disposal it deserves.