I was ready to take down my flags.
On Sept. 11, 2001, following the attacks on America by Islamic terrorists, I put two flags on my front porch, an American flag and a flag of the United States Marine Corps. I vowed that the flags would fly until those responsible had been brought to justice.
Months passed, then years. The original flags became worn and tattered, so I replaced them. Twice more the flags would become worn and would be replaced. I began to wonder if the man behind the attacks would ever be brought to accountability. Then, suddenly, Osama bin Laden was dead, killed by U. S. Navy SEALs in Pakistan. I announced that I would take my flags down after Memorial Day.
And, then, I received a letter. A reader of my columns, former Marine Sergeant Pete Darcy shared that, in the mid-1960s, after graduation from high school, a friend of his named Ronnie joined the Navy. Shortly afterward, Pete enlisted in the Marine Corps. They caught up with each other on the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico.
Pete reported, “After a couple of beers at the shop-shoot, he proceeded to ream me out for joining the Corps. ‘You’re going to get shipped to ‘Nam and get your @#* killed. Why didn’t you join the Navy like me?’ That was the last day I saw Ronnie. In February 1968, I was home on a 96 (a 96-hour pass) when Ronnie’s sisters came across the street to my parent’s home crying hysterically. Ronnie had been killed ... in ‘Nam.’”
Pete went on to share that, after he married and bought his first home, he vowed to remember Ronnie in as many ways as possible — flying the flags, standing tall at the Pledge of Allegiance, at the playing of “Anchors Aweigh,” keeping in touch with Ronnie’s family, and remembering him in prayer.
In his letter, Pete said to me, “Now, my reason for writing to you. Your flags near the entrance of Shoal Creek serve to welcome visitors and neighbors of who they are even if they don’t realize it at the time. They provide a ‘send-off’ each day for me and serve as an acute reminder of all the Ronnies who aren’t here to fly the flags themselves ... I would ask that you reconsider your decision to lower the ‘Colors’ ... Forget bin Laden and let the Lord deal with him. I know you’ll remember Ronnie.”
His letter touched me and reminded me of other young men from my own high school days who died in ‘Nam and who also are no longer here to fly the flags themselves. It reminded me of all the young men whose flag-draped coffins I have helped to greet at Falcon Field as they made their last journey home from Iraq or Afghanistan.
It made me think of a friend who lost many compatriots in Beirut and another friend whose son was killed on the USS Cole. I also thought of a man in my church who was on the USS Forrestal when it blew up and killed many of his companions. Others came to mind and then came thoughts of those who have perished through the centuries so that our flags could fly freely.
I have purchased two new flags to replace to ones I was going to take down. On July 4th, I will display the new Stars and Stripes and the new flag of the Marine Corps. I intend to leave them up.
Pete was right — I need to forget bin Laden. He is not worthy of remembrance. The new flags that will now wave at the passersby are to honor all the Ronnies who died so that my flags can still fly.
Thanks for the reminder and the lesson, Sergeant Darcy. Semper Fi and Happy Birthday, America.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]