It's the Fourth of July weekend and today I read a news story about American flags being burned. Feelings are strong and emotions are high all over our country right now. People are responding to hurt, uncertainty, and fear. There is much to pray about. But, the flag? My mother taught our family to love and respect the flag. I have written before about the little ceremony my sisters and I participated in each holiday as we marched our flag down to the end of our driveway, posted it in the holder on the giant elm tree, and saluted as we sang patriotic songs. It was another world back then. We were not worried about what our friends would think, because they were raised to be patriotic as well. Each year, on the 4th of July, we decorated our bikes and rode alongside the Veterans and First Responders through the center of town for our local parade. Our firefighters were honored citizens, and flags and buntings decked the porches throughout the town. We were taught flag etiquette, and in our public school, we pledged allegiance with pride. Like so many things, our mother's training about respecting our country's flag has never left me.
This afternoon, I came across a second news story about the American flag. It was written as a Kern Valley, California news story. Kernville is my mother's and sister's home town, in a little valley nestled in the high desert of the Sequoia National Forest. They have experienced a drought for the last five years and the landscape is hot, dry, and poised to ignite. Smokey the Bear signs, warning of the high fire danger, are posted up and down the mountainside. For the past several weeks, fires have consumed the countryside, and hundreds of structures have been threatened and destroyed. Fire crews from all over the west coast have been working for weeks, tirelessly, to bring these fires under control and protect the families living in the valley. Above is a photo from their news feed. It was shared by a grateful citizen whose home was saved by the crew captured in the photo.
The tattered flag, mounted on the truck, belonged to the home's owner. He thought it had burned in the fire. The real story is that the crew found the home, and the flag, on fire when they arrived. The owner had evacuated, so in the process of saving the home, the crew rescued the flag and flew it on their engine until the day the fire was finally extinguished. The home owner reported that the crew which rescued his home and his flag hunted him down and found him at work to give the flag back to him. He was so grateful to them, and so moved by their act, for he had taken that flag to Afghanistan and Iraq and was devastated when he thought it had burned in the fire. His post in the news feed was to say a heartfelt "thank you" to the crew of Engine 13 of the Kern County Fire Department, for saving and returning the symbol of his service.
Imagine, amid all the chaos, how those firefighters thought to protect and save this flag, and then to return it to its owner. There is a lot of pride in this little valley, and every day there are flags flying up and down the streets throughout the neighborhoods. As you can tell, this story moved me. It reminded me of all that we have to be proud of as citizens of this great country, and all that we have to be grateful for.
At St. Martin's we fly our flags proudly. And we teach faith, patriotism and citizenship to every student, from the littlest ones all the way through our Upper School. I wish you all a happy 4th as we celebrate this Independence Day.