Remembering Then and Now

Walking through the grass, I read the names on the stones. Some of them had flowers placed or planted all around, and many had flags. They are the same names I read every year on Memorial Day and on my brother’s birthday. The same thing I do every year. I walk through the graveyard to visit his grave; and as tradition, I pray for all of those who are risking their lives to keep our nation and our freedoms safe.

It was 10 years ago when his sergeant came to our doorstep to give us the devastating news – my brother had died in action. I remember my mother crying, and my father doing his best to comfort her. I remember being sad; but I don’t remember a whole lot, since I was only 12 at the time. When the day came for his memorial service, I remember seeing so many faces. Many were sad. My mother was devastated, because her only son had been stolen away. Even though she could understand why he wanted to be in the Marines, she always wished he didn’t have to be danger. When some of my brother’s military friends came to wish their condolences and said that my brother had died a hero, my mother was proud of what he had accomplished but sad she would never see him again. It was hard seeing her that way. I went outside and sat on the grass, and I remember looking up at the flag. I couldn’t stop thinking about what my brother had taught me; his words rang in my head:

     “Hope, the flag is so important to our nation,” my brother said.
     “Sam, but why? My teacher says it’s just an old flag.”
     “Yeah, unfortunately, many people feel that way. But that’s because they don’t understand what it mean. What colors do you see?”
     “I see red, white, and blue. What does that have to do with it?” I asked.
     “Hope, those colors all stand for something important. The color white stripes stand for liberty and equality. The red stripes stand for the fearless courage, integrity, self-sacrifice, and devotion of those who had given their lives. My blue stands for faith and loyalty. All in all, the American Flag stands for liberty, justice, and humanity.”
     “Wow, that’s a lot of things.”
     “Yes, Hope, it is. But you probably won’t remember all that. There is one thing I want you to remember though.”
     “What’s that?”
     “The American flag is the sacred emblem of our country. That flag is our deed for the freedoms that we love and cherish. Without those freedoms, we would be like everyone else. Our Founding Fathers wanted our nation to be set apart. They believed God gave it to us and gave us the duty to protect it. He gave us victory in that war for human liberty. The flag was created in freedom,” I remember him saying.
     “I wish everyone knew that. Then they would be nicer to the flag and to those who protect it. They should teach that in school,” I said.
     “In a way, they do.”
     “How?”
     “Hope, what do you do every morning?”
     “Well, we face the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance.”
     “That pledge can teach a lot. It’s basically everything the flag stands for, especially the last phrase – ‘One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ You students say it all of the time, but a lot of times you kids just say the words and don’t even realize what words you are saying. It has turned into a hypocritical routine.”

My brother was wrong. I do remember everything he said that day, and I guarantee I will never forget. It has been engraved in my brain, especially after being in the Marines myself. I have followed in my brother’s footsteps. I remember telling my mother that day of the funeral. She came out to find me and to tell me it was time to go home. I asked her if she thought it was beautiful. She gave me the strangest look and asked me if I was talking about the wildflowers. I laughed and said no, and I told her I was talking about the flag. I went on to repeat what my brother had told me a few years ago, and I told her that I believe God was telling me to do the same. My mother was surprised and told me that it was my decision but she doesn’t me to go. I remember telling her that it’s not my decision but God’s.
That was the best decision of my life. I have made many sacrifices for my country. I am thankful God protected and preserved my life, but I do have my battle wounds. But I would not trade them for anything in the world.

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