June 8, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Let’s honor our nation’s symbol on June 14

Shirley Vogler MeisterOne time, while attending an early evening Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concert in a park, high winds swirled around the nearby American flag.

Musicians’ scores rustled silently against music stands, but the sound of wind and music predominated. Light caught the moths in flight above the conductor’s head, while the wind whipped balloons from hands of concert-goers.

Individuals sporadically responded with “ooohs.” Then, with unusual gusto, a stronger wind attacked our nation’s flag—and the Stars and Stripes unceremoniously fell to the ground.

Many heads in the orchestra and the audience turned to the left, but the music continued beautifully. Spontaneously, a white-haired man and a girl dashed forward to remedy this so the concert continued without pause.

I was edified by the musicians as well as the pair who raised the fallen flag with an effort reminiscent of a famous World War II photograph.

I remember that evening because of sketchy notes written on a small patch of paper I saved from a decade ago. I also penciled in: “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history,” a quotation from President Abraham Lincoln. This is what the gentleman flag-raiser said loudly after he and the girl finished the task.

The actual historical moment to which he alluded was the raising of the American flag on Feb. 23, 1945, on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the scene during an interlude in the battle that resulted in victory against the Japanese, now American allies. It was the first battle that Americans fought near Japanese homelands. Rosenthal’s photo was later recaptured as a 32-foot sculpture dedicated as a U.S. Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1954.

The photo and sculpture depict five U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy corpsman raising our flag. Actually, a smaller flag was raised earlier then replaced by the larger one. The smaller flag went to Navy Secretary James Forestal.

The photo and the sculpture are symbols of American patriotism. So is our flag, often called “Old Glory” or “The Stars and Stripes.”

Whenever I see a flag flying in tattered condition or used in disrespectful ways, I cringe and get teary-eyed. However, I feel the very same way when seeing or learning about the misuse or desecration of treasured symbols of the Catholic-Christian faith. Yet, it is just as wrong for Christians—or anyone else—to desecrate or destroy symbols of other faiths.

“Mother Nature,” however, has a way of doing this with extreme weather, which is devastating enough without miscreants doing the same.

As we approach Flag Day on June 14, let us be especially aware of how flags are used. Also remember: It is up to us to instill respect for “Old Glory” in our children and grandchildren.

Long may “The Stars and Stripes” wave!

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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