#206 – Dick Bernard: Reflecting on the American Flag

Monday of this week I delivered a 500 page family history to the printer. The history is of my Dad’s French-Canadian family, in North America since the early 1600s. That’s a lot of history. The 500 pages can only be a summary.
The last photo I selected and inserted was the one below, the dedication of a flagpole at the Apartment Community of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville IL. The dedication was Memorial Day, 1998, six months after my Dad died. The flagpole was donated by we siblings to honor the memory of our Dad, Henry L. Bernard, and his brother Frank Bernard, who went down with the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. The first flag hoisted up the flagpole – the flag pictured – had 48 stars. It had draped the casket of Dad’s Dad, another Henry, in 1957. Grandpa had served in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines 1898-99.

At Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL, Memorial Day, 1998

I have often seen the flag used as we used it in 1998: to remember somebody’s service to country. Whether the cause served was just or unjust (a very legitimate matter of debate), the question of service is less debatable.
In more recent years, particularly post 9-11-01, there has been (in my opinion) a reprehensible turn in the business of “Flag” as a litmus test of “Patriotism”. The Flag has become a weapon to be brandished against those with a different point of view. In the recent series, the “Story of US” as portrayed on the History Channel, I saw General Tommy Franks talking about the three F’s as basic American values: Family, Faith and Flag. The portrayal, and choice of portrayer – Franks – turned me off. It was definitely an “us vs them” portrayal; the primacy of military might, viewed through the flag.
Like it or not, military is part of every one of our family’s lives. I’ve been military myself. I didn’t go in to set about killing someone from somewhere else, or being killed, but that could have been my fate. I went in because I knew I’d have to go sometime (the Draft), and best to get it over with. Luckily, my decision to join when I did made me a Vietnam era veteran, when service in Vietnam was a coveted assignment…. Not all were so fortunate.
In the previously mentioned history, I noted that all of my male ancestors who came to Nouvelle France (Quebec) were in one way or another military people. They had other skills, yes, but what got them on the boat from France to to-be Canada was mostly related to military – to secure the new territory for France, and then protect it from intruders.
One of my first ancestors in what is now the Twin Cities joined the military unit whose job was to chase the Indians back across the Missouri River in 1863. He was the first ancestor to visit what is now North Dakota. His service record is about the only history I have of him. Luckily his unit was not involved in any massacre of the Indians, but nonetheless, he was part of the force that took the Indians land…and gave my ancestors theirs.
I’m sure the flag was involved there, too.
This little writing won’t dispose of the flag issue, or of the issues relating to War and Peace. At the same time, I think all sides need to think this issue through.
I close with a memory of a photo I took in a farmyard in Finland in June, 2003. We were on a cruise of the Baltic countries, a few days later we were in St. Petersburg, Russia, a month after George W. Bush had been there. This was not long after the war on Iraq commenced. One of the people on the cruise seemed a particularly belligerent America Firster. We were touring a Finnish farm, and the guy was there, wearing his American Flag jacket. The facial expression of the Finnish girl in the background, in context with what I saw before that photo, is priceless.

Finnish Farmyard, June, 2003

Have a good fourth of July