Let me explain what I mean by overuse. Simply put, it means the flag has been left out well beyond its time. The red stripes have turned pink; the white stripes and stars are now a dingy gray; and the blue field is washed out losing its luster. Some flags are tattered and torn, snagged on roof tops, or wrapped around itself on the flag pole, and generally looking nasty and disrespected.
When the American flag is disrespected in this manner it conveys a disregard for the nation and its core values, beliefs and system of governance. The flag of our nation is a symbol which embodies our history, honor, hopes and humility as a people. It doesn’t mean you agree with everything that occurs within our borders or even the manner in which we conduct our affairs of state outside our borders. What it does mean, however, is that we hold to its best values such as are listed in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with its Bill of Rights. With such documents in place we are always made aware of what we can be as Americans. To disregard them places us in peril of losing the very beliefs that made this a great nation. For well over two hundred years people from all over the world have sacrificed to make it to our shores for an opportunity to make something more of their lives.
The words etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor says it best: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, Tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” The United States has been that beacon of hope to countless thousands of immigrants who have come to our shores. One immigrant who arrived from Greece recalled, “I saw the Statue of Liberty. And I said to myself, ‘Lady, you're such a beautiful! [sic] You opened your arms and you get all the foreigners here. Give me a chance to prove that I am worth it, to do something, to be someone in America." And always that statue was on my mind.’”
One of the best and simplest ways to show respect for the flag of the United States of America is to properly care for it. Look out your window. Look carefully at your flag. What does it show? If in doubt, simply replace it. On average, most flags for home use run about twenty dollars including the new pole and bracket. Flags for businesses range from $150-$200. I recommend to businesses (and homes as well) that they budget for two flags a year. This way you change it every six months. The flag always looks fresh and clean this way, and you avoid the disheveled appearance that seems to be commonplace today. It’s an easy fix, so let’s change it!
If you are uncertain as to what to do with your old flag, simply drop it off at your nearest American Legion Post, or Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post. These folks will properly and honorably dispose of the flag for you.
A few weeks ago I gathered up several used flags I had in my garage. Wanting to use this as a teaching moment, I picked up my five-year-old granddaughter, Alyssa, to go along with me. We stopped at the VFW Post 1051 in Ripon, CA. The lady who answered the door, smiled and gladly took the flags from us. It was all of a five mile round trip and one minute at the door. But it also taught Alyssa an invaluable lesson in the proper care and disposal of the flag.
You may find yourself wanting to suggest to a neighbor or a business establishment the need to replace their flag. The way I approach this is to ask to speak to the homeowner, or manager, if it’s a business. I begin by thanking them for flying the flag in honor of our great nation. Then I point out that the flag they are currently flying needs to be replaced according to the Flag Code in federal law. Often I have found that these folks have not taken a good look at the flag in a while. They are usually surprised that I point out this discrepancy to them. One CEO of a hospital walked outside to look at the offending flag. He was stunned by what he saw. At that point I didn’t need to say anymore.
Fly the flag proudly! But make sure you look at it once in a while.