Archibald M. Willard, “The Spirit of ’76,” one of the best-recognized icons of American patriotism; courtesy of the American Reserve Society Sons of the American Revolution (of which Willard was a member).
Scouters discuss issues of leadership and skill, a wide-ranging group of topics that pertain to Boy Scouting, on a list-server known as Scouts-L. I subscribe to the discussion, and at times have participated frequently in it. Looking over my own archives, I was amused to see that it was more than a decade ago that I addressed the issue of how to quell any need for a Constitutional Amendment on flag desecration.
The U.S. flag fascinated me from my early childhood. It always strikes me as unique among flags of nations, and I can truly say that I find it stirring to see it in good display. In court, in schools, in the Senate and executive branch of federal government, and in local government, I have had more than my share of occasions to participate in cermonies honoring the flag, or merely sit in contemplation of it during official proceedings. I always reflect on John Peter Zenger’s trial for telling the truth about the King’s governor of New York, and how our flag now means that we can tell the truth about our own government without fear of official reprisal.
I often reflect on the story of Virginia Hewlett, who was a member of the U.S. High Commissioner’s staff in the Philippines when Gen. MacArthur’s forces retreated, and who risked her life in order to strike the U.S. flag and prevent its capture by the Japanese. For this action she and several others were captured, tortured, and endured the war in a prison camp. When she was freed, to her husband and my old friend Frank Hewlett (who was a UPI war correspondent and later a Nieman Fellow and Washington correspondent for the Salt Lake Tribune), she weighed 78 pounds.
Lately I reflect on a story Caroline Kennedy collected for her Patriot’s Handbook, a story by U.S. Sen. John McCain, about a man named Mike Christian who risked beatings in the “Hanoi Hilton” as a prisoner-of-war, in order to make a U.S. flag to salute at meals.
Ten years ago, five years before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the ensuing flag-display-frenzy, we were discussing on Scouts-L how to instill a reverence for and pride in the U.S. flag, and dedication to the ideals it calls us to.
This was my advice to Scouts and Scouters then, and with a few editing tweaks, I think it remains good advice:
I address the issue of how to instill pride and reverence for the U.S. flag.
The answer is simple and difficult: Model the way. Do it yourself:
1. The flag code (available on-line and other places) lists more than two dozen dates on which your flag should fly at your home. Fly the flag on those days and ask your neighbors to do the same.
2. Salute the flag properly when it is presented. Be the first to stand and salute when you see the colors moving into the room. When I used to report on conventions and other gatherings where flags were posted in front of civilians, it always amazed me that so few people stood for the presentation. I’ve found that, as an audience member, I can have powerful influence if I simply stand quickly and salute. In Scout audiences, usually an old Eagle will say “Scouts, salute!” They do it unconsciously. When this happens, the entire audience rises quickly. It is impressive. This also means you will grow tired at most 4th of July parades. Don’t let it deter you.
3. When you participate in a flag raising ceremony, practice it to get it down perfectly. Do it right. Colors rise quickly; colors retreat slowly. Half-mast displays are done after the colors rise all the way. Get one of your musically inclined kids to learn “To the colors” and “Retreat” perfectly, and fast.
4. When you participate in a flag posting ceremony, rehearse it before-hand to get it down perfectly. Do it right. (Does this sound a bit like an echo? It’s important.) Have the colormaster know his/her lines perfectly and say them loudly. You will be amazed at how an audience bends to the commands of an enthusiastic 12-year old saluting the flag.
5. Get a copy of the Scout publication Your Flag (my 1981 printing is No. 3188 — is that still current?). Whenever you display or present a flag, consult the book on the proper way to do it, especially when you have flags flanking a podium. When I worked for a U.S. Senator I noted that better than half the times flags were displayed, they were displayed on the wrong side of the podium. Recently as I waited for a judge to appear in court I noted an unaccustomed display of the flag — but on consulting my references I learned it was done correctly (do you know what is the “point of honor?”). We can all learn, and should consult references whenever there are questions.
6. Whenever you say the Pledge of Allegiance, say it loud, with alacrity (and my personal bias: Don’t pause after “flag” but say it in phrases). Salute properly. If you want to emphasize “liberty and justice for all,” feel free.
7. To help kids learn proper flag etiquette, make it fun and meaningful. Let your kids get the satisfaction that comes from being the color guard at an American Legion meeting and getting the cheers of the Legionnaires. Let your kids get the satisfaction of leading the parents of the PTA in showing proper respect. Drill, in your troop, post or pack.
If we all do these seven things, others will follow. It seems to me that if we had 60 percent of American homes displaying the flag on special days designated for it, there would be absolutely no question about an amendment on flag desecration. There would be no need. It is sad when we must try to enforce respect, by legislation, when that same respect is not shown voluntarily by so many who should.
Let’s start the movement. If every Scout’s home flew the flag, it would be astounding. If every Vietnam veteran flew the flag on holidays, the colors would be astounding. If every Gulf War vet joined in, you would hear about a “rise of patriotism” in America. If the vets of Korea joined in, it would be the biggest movement in America. If the surviving WWII vets joined, the space shuttle would be able to see the color change from orbit!
Well, we can hope . . .
Thanks for the reminder, Pat. Good points.
Follow the Flag Code, Dear Citizen; do not be like the shop in Corpus Christi, using a tattered flag as some sort of advertisement (not a good advertisement!): https://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/patriotic-shame-of-corpus-christi-texas/
Please also post information on the inappropriate use of the flag as a way of drawing attention to a business. (Often employed as a way of getting around local sign ordinances, and how disrespectful is it for people or businesses to display tattered, faded, or damaged flags, and to leave them up during rain storms or after sundown.
Mark Twain on the flag.
“The Flag Is Not Polluted 
I am not finding fault with this use of our flag; for in order not to seem eccentric I have swung around, now, and joined the nation in the conviction that nothing can sully a flag. I was not properly reared, and had the illusion that a flag was a thing which must be sacredly guarded against shameful uses and unclean contacts, lest it suffer pollution; and so when it was sent out to the Philippines to float over a wanton war and a robbing expedition I supposed it was polluted, and in an ignorant moment I said so. But I stand corrected. I concede and acknowledge that it was only the government that sent it on such an errand that was polluted. Let us compromise on that. I am glad to have it that way. For our flag could not well stand pollution, never having been used to it, but it is different with the administration.”
Twain also proposed his version of the flag for the Philippines colony, the white stripes replaced with black and the stars replaced with death heads.
As to the “desecration”, couldn’t one just make a flag with 45 stars or 11 stripes and burn that?
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Take a look at other flags. They are generally big blotches of colors, sometimes with a stripe here or there, or some other blotch on it. The U.S. flag is stripes, and a bunch of stars. When I was a kid I used to read the World Book Encyclopedia a lot. Their entry on flags included color plates showing the flags of most nations. The U.S. flag always stands out.
Try it. See if you can get a photo of a line of flags at the UN, or at some other international gathering. Don’t you find the U.S. flag easy to pick out, different from the rest?
“The U.S. flag fascinated me from my early childhood. It always strikes me as unique among flags of nations”
In what way?