With the Memorial Day weekend just passed and the NHL playoffs in full swing I feel the need to say something about what I consider an appalling lack of flag etiquette in our country.
Since the bombings of September 11, 1991 it has seemed there is an upswing of patriotism in our country. This is good. What is distressing is how few people seem to know the proper way of showing respect to the flag and/or how to act when our National Anthem is sung. I wanted to gnash my teeth when, before the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs started, the National Anthem was sung and people in the stands were clapping, talking to their seatmates, and some still had hats on! Have these people never been instructed on the proper etiquette?
So in a nod to Miss Manners (whom I will never purport to be) and as a patriotic American, Navy veteran, and former Girl Scout, here are some rules that should be observed when honoring our flag and our National Anthem:
Remember when you were in school and you said the Pledge of Allegiance with your right hand over your heart? That still goes. If the flag passes by (such as in a parade) it is customary to stand and salute the flag with your hand over your heart; if you are wearing a hat, then REMOVE IT and place it over your heart. For uniformed military members a hand salute is required; for an honor guard the rifle is brough to Present Arms. I have also seen military veterans, such as VFW or American Legion members giving a hand salute. This is proper. What is not proper is just ignoring YOUR flag as it passes by. Hundreds of thousands of men and women have fought and died for that flag to defend and insure YOUR freedom and, unfortunately, your right to ignore the symbol of your country! Please don't dishonor their sacrifices by ignoring your flag.
Now as far as the National Anthem goes, that is, in my opinion, also an occasion of honoring your country. When I am at a sporting event and the Anthem is sung (no matter how well or how badly...and I've heard both) I turn to face the flag, even if it's on a jumbotron, stand at attention, and place my hand over my heart. It makes me angry to see people around me carrying on conversations, clapping like it's another American Idol audition, and hats still on heads. I don't expect you to sing along, after all, it's not the most singable tune in the world. I do expect you to shut up, take your hat off, and honor your country! Even if you don't put your hand over your heart, for God's sake just stand there quietly until it's over and TAKE YOUR HAT OFF!
Patriotism is a wonderful thing. I consider myself patriotic. I love my country. I even served my country for a brief time in the Navy. My husband is an Army Reserve veteran. My late father-in-law served in the Army during World War II. I had one uncle who was wounded in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. I had another uncle who was an Army lawyer and help prosecute Japanese war criminals after the Second World War. My mother's cousin is one of the most patriotic people I know and would be appalled if she saw some of the things I'm talking about; her late husband served in the Merchant Marine. My point is, my family is very much grounded in love of and duty to our country. We consider ourselves true patriots. So much of what I see today is convenient or just plain emotional patriotism.
When you fail to honor our flag, you fail to honor our country. When you fail to show respect when our National Anthem is sung, you fail to respect our country. And perhaps even worse than that, you fail to show honor and respect to the men and women who have lived and died for our country. Whether it was the foot soldiers in the trenches of France in 1917, the sailors in Pearl Harbor in 1941, the women of the WACs, WAVES, and WASPs taking over domestic tasks so the men could go overseas, the Marines island hopping the Pacific, the grunts in Bastogne, the crew of Enola Gay, the soldiers, Marines, and sailors in Korea and Vietnam, the troops in Desert Storm, or our men and women currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, countless people have put their lives on the line for our country; some have been killed in service to our country. To those who have served and come home and to those who have been buried on battlefields abroad, you have my utmost gratitude and respect. Thank you!
So the next time you see a flag pass by or hear the National Anthem sung, remember it's not just a piece of cloth or just a song. These are two very powerful symbols of our country and reminders of all the people who have served our country. Remember that. Respect that.