It was a hot summer day driving down the road on the way back from a friends house in St. Petersburg. Crossing the busy traffic from Tampa to Dale Malbary was proving a chore this day as I sat there listening to the hum of my engine. Tampa is quite possibly the worse place to drive and for someone not from the area that didn’t know the secret back roads, it could prove tedious to say the least. I assumed there was an accident ahead or something along those lines since it was a daily occurrence. Up ahead I saw the turn signals of a few cars change from the tick of left to right. Much like a sailor in the sea seeing the lighthouse over yonder I decided to change course also. I glanced at their plates and saw they were locals…well that or they were all military transplanted here. Either way I figured I was with good company.
Much in the same way a group of deuce-and-a-halves and hummers convoy down the road, our minivans, pickups, and sedans in an orderly fashion jumped out of line into the side road. Bunched together tightly because of the sardines of automobiles we trudged along this “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” side road. Oh great I thought to myself as I had turned from one bad path to another. What was next surprised me since I never would have thought it true. You know how sometimes you catch something out of the corner of your eye? Sometimes it is a trickle of light or an object that just doesn’t belong where its at. This is exactly what happened as I pulled a 90 degree turn of my neck to the left to see a fallen object.
I slowed down from my already jogging pace to a brisk walk. I know this because people were walking past me in my truck. I guess I slowed down so much in disbelief rather than the need for safety. Take in to account the fact there were literally thousands of people and cars passing along this busy area. For all I knew it could have only been there for 10 seconds before I saw it or maybe, just maybe, it had been there all day.
I pulled my lifted pickup off into the construction zone I had been so meticulously warned about at the turn. It was a bump or two since the road was completely torn up and nothing left but the under soil that once supported it. I looked once more to make sure that before I threw myself into traffic it was what my split second gaze had identified. It was…an American Flag.
Now call me old fashion or a right-wing Christian crazy nut, but when I see such a symbol of American Pride and dignity I am inclined to stop. I signed my name on the dotted line and lifted my right hand to pledge my allegiance to die for that flag and the people it represented. So imagine my dismay to see a tattered flag being rolled over like the road it sat on. I paused for a moment unsure to pick it up or not. It was a busy day and unlike the flag, when people run over me I don’t go flat, I become a speed bump. My mind raced as I thought about my TI in basic training and his adoration for all things red, white, and blue and I knew that I owed it to him if no one else.
Vroom! Without thinking I almost jumped out into the middle of road. You would think that after a good 4+ years of seasme street I would have been prepared for the look both ways ritual but I suppose not. With Big Bird now ringing in my head I checked both directions and planned my dash. “If I wait for the 18wheeler of death to pass by before I jump out in front I will be okay” I thought to myself. Luckily I was an expert frogger player way back when. I was ready.
1….2……3…….off I was to the middle of this road. I had just seconds to look at the flag before grasping it into my hands. What I saw was a 24 inches or so sized flag tattered with holes in it. Where there once was stars for states, there was now burnt holes. It was disgusting to soak all this in. Why was I the first to stop? People around me driving had now began the orchestra of horns with a choir of cursing in to melody it all. When I pulled up from the ground this flag much of the hoopla stopped as they gathered in what I was doing. I was just waiting for someone to honk again or tell me to forget the stupid flag. While not a very Christ-like thing to do, they would have had a good foot to mouth for them.
I pulled from the ground this fallen hero and took him to my truck. Doing the best I could without a fellow military person there, I performed the ceremony of folding him up. This task was near impossible as there were so many holes and ripes that it was hard to make creases. Doing the best I could I walked around to the passenger door and found a place for my comrade. Looking at the seat I would sit him down on it seemed almost inadequate. I shoved away the pink lemonade and sweet tarts and put him there. I walked back around to my door and stepped up into the high cab of my truck. I looked around to see what the aftermath of my actions would be and much to my surprise, nothing. Much in the same way the flag had sat there with no one doing anything, so would be its departure. I looked over to see the flag sitting there…stopped for a minute….and started the truck. Turning into traffic I followed the flow of cars as I found my way back to base.
That flag is still with me. I didn’t want to burn it in an official ceremony as I felt that was a horrible ending to a flag that had basked its last days in the Tampa sun. Instead I held on to it and as I packed my belongings on my way out of Tampa I came across the old flag in my closet. I put him in my backpack next to my other important things and rode off. The flag is a reminder to me that sometimes the sacrifices of many mean so little to most. Even though an American Flag will grace their home on July 4th and will be the focal of their pre-game show for Super Bowl, they will forget. Maybe you are right, it is just an old worn flag, but that flag will forever stand as my reminder of freedom. No matter how large a flag flies in the sky, mine will be a real view of that freedom.