Members of the political Right Wing have tried to adopt the American Flag as their proprietary symbol of patriotism – they fly it as if a defiant battle flag against those “liberal” leftists who are attempting to tear down the Countries’ traditional values and mores which harken back to a past they see slipping away, a symbol carrying the message that they, the Right, are the true Americans.
The Left Wing increasingly does not fly the flag for fear of now being identified wrongly with the Right Wing’s position. Further, the Left Wing says that true patriotism is expressed by one’s attitudes and deeds aimed at a better America for all and that the Right’s attempt to co-opt the Flag for their own interests is the false patriotism that Samuel Johnson labeled “…the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
I thought about our flag. My mother did not fly it at our farm house in Southern New Mexico except on Flag Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day and Armistice Day. In the several houses I have owned and lived in since I have never flown the flag. I wasn’t expressing a view one way or the other. I never thought about it. My houses have all been in a suburban area and nobody else flew the flag so I wasn’t confronted with the question of whether I should, also.
However, when in 1989-90, I bought ranch land in Lincoln County, New Mexico, I had a pole erected at the entrance gate on which we fly the American Flag and underneath it the New Mexico state flag. Again, I just did it without thinking why or why this location was to me in this way different from my suburban houses. There is no one in my Albuquerque subdivision who flies a flag and among my nearby Lincoln County rural neighbors, a few do but most don’t.
And all this got me to thinking about a national symbol that does move me, that does stir in me deep feelings of patriotism toward my country.
I first noticed it in the early 1980s. Here is the story.
When I was ABC’s White House correspondent, I accompanied presidents on their foreign trips. Occasionally, I would fly on Air Force one when it was ABC’s turn in the rotating press pool that flew with him on his plane but usually I would fly on the press plane that landed early to set up cameras in anticipation of the president’s arrival.
And so it was in the early eighties (who remembers exact dates anymore) that one morning at the airport in Bonn, then West Germany, I came to my personal symbol of love of country.
In the advancing light of day, through the early morning mist across the outer marker of the runway came a great Boeing 707, our most magnificent civilian airplane before the advent of the wide bodies.
And as it touched down and the engines began to reverse with a roar this plane swept past me with its iconic white and blue coloring and emblazed on its side in large letters the words THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!
And I thought, when the plane marked with those words carrying our president lands the world steps up smartly, attention is paid, friends rejoice and adversary’s tremble.
At that moment, I felt a deep thrill and sense of pride that I was an American and that our Country commanded such a presence everywhere which, in those days, I think we had earned and today we are trying to renew.
Yes, the flag…but for me forever Air Force One proclaiming to everyone who sees it THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!
That’s the symbol that makes Sir Walter Scott’s famous poem fill my heart:
Breathes there the man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, ‘This is my own, my native land!’