What does the flag mean to you?

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Christopher McCool
  • 319th Recruiting Squadron
"The things that the flag stands for were created by the experiences of a great people. Everything it stands for was written by their lives. The flag is the embodiment, not of sentiment, but of history. Our flag is more than a piece of cloth. It is the embodiment of the history of the United States. It's infused with the sacrifices and blood of those who came before us. The hopes and dreams of those of who have come to America are sewn into the American flag." -Woodrow Wilson.

As a young teenager, I remember my years in scouting and the numerous small town parades I marched in. I was often part of the color guard and was blessed with the honor of carrying our nation's flag. Back then, I didn't quite understand why the symbol of our nation would stop everyone in their tracks and at times, bring some of the strongest looking men to tears. Men would remove their hats and place them toward their left shoulder with their right hand over their heart. The women and children near them would draw closer to each other as a family and focus their undivided attention toward our passing in review. It was obvious that we were carrying something special; a symbol of unity, strength, pride and patriotism.

As the son of a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, I was raised in an environment of patriotism, service and love of God and country. I recall a heated debate in American Government class where a classmate of mine insisted that American citizens have the constitutional right to burn the American flag in protest to government or political policies. That day my government teacher had to keep me separated from the individual. My response to the student was, "if it's your right to burn MY flag, then it's my right to beat your (fill in the blank)." In the moment, I didn't know where that emotion came from, but I do now. It came from an understanding and appreciation for years of sacrifice that many of our service men and women have made to establish and keep this country free. The next day I wore a shirt I bought from my dad's VFW post that had an image of an American flag and the words "Just try and burn this one." Kind of ironic that I already owned the shirt at 17 years old. The flag, and what it stood for, meant that much to me.

Fast forward three years to my graduation from basic military training. After the pass in review and being released to my parents, we immediately walked over to the monument where the base flag was being flown and I stood there in awe. My Marine Corps dad by my side, tears in my eyes, I exclaimed, "I get it now! I understand what we stand for, why we fight, why we unify as a nation during times of adversity and despair, and why our flag is hoisted as a sign of strength." It is a living thing. It is a part of all us who serve, and have served, to provide the very freedoms our forefathers intended us to have. It is the symbol of life, strength, resolve and perseverance of the American people.

On Flag Day, I ask you to reflect on what the flag means to you. Over the years my view has changed. The one thing that has remained constant is that our flag stands for something greater than me. I am humbled and honored to serve as an American Airman under the symbol of a great nation.