Today is the first in a series of articles on veterans to commemorate Memorial Day this Monday, May 28.
I chose the subject of flag burning so I could be a messenger of sorts for another special day that follows close on the heels of Memorial Day, that being Flag Day on June 14.
In case you weren't aware or have forgotten, Flag Day commemorates the same day in 1777 when the Second Constitutional Congress adopted the thirteen-stripes-and-thirteen-stars flag. The stars reportedly were put on a blue field, "representing a new constellation" in the night sky. (I wasn't there which is why I said reportedly.)
June 14 was officially named Flag Day by President Woodrow Wilson, and the week in which Flag Day occurs is Flag Week. Americans are encouraged to fly the flag in accordance with standard rules and regulations.
I read an article on Flag Day a couple of years ago in which it was noted that federal buildings are "asked" to fly the American flag on Flag Day. Personally I don't think "asked" should be part of the sentence; "told" is more appropriate.
Last weekend the local American Legion post in my community hosted a visit by National Commander Fang A. Wong, a Vietnam veteran and naturalized citizen who is the first Chinese-American to head that organization. During a question and answer session Commander Wong noted that the Legion at the national level has been lobbying for a ban on burning the American flag as a means of protest.
Commander Wong noted that there is substantial and ongoing support within America's veterans to ban burning the flag as a means of protesting dissatisfaction with the government. Yet, he noted to the surprise of many who gathered to meet him that it is perfectly legal to burn the flag during a street protest, but don't try to burn the flag as part of an appropriate observance without a slew of government approvals, at least in New York City.
Yours Truly presents a copy of Masters of the Art, A Fighting Marine's Memoir of Vietnam to American Legion National Commander and Vietnam Veteran Fang A. Wong
June 14 is not only a national day to recognize our flag and what it stands for, it also is a day during which members of the Legion dispose of unserviceable flags. In accordance with a ceremony – the details of which are contained in Legion publications providing guidance for post operations – Legion members gather flags that are no longer in condition to be flown in public and burn them in a suitable and respectful manner.
But when members of Commander Wong's post wanted to hold a flag disposal ceremony a few years ago they were given a resounding "NO" from New York City officials who said they first had to apply for a permit – or several permits. They veterans did as instructed, but the applications were denied.
In fact, in subsequent years, members of the commander's post were told they had to attend fire training at the city's fire training academy, and were given permission to dispose of the flags using the appropriate ceremony only after completing the prescribed course – but only on the grounds of the training facility!
Since we dispose of unserviceable flags on Flag Day at my post each year, and since the volunteer fire department doesn't give us a hard time like city officials do to the New York City's veterans, we offered to host a delegation from Commander Wong's post on Flag Day this year and any other year they so desire.
They can bring as many unserviceable flags as they can carry and we'll be happy to conduct the appropriate ceremony. We do things differently out in the country I guess.
Can you imagine that? An America-hating protester can walk down the street, dragging the American flag on the ground, and on a whim whip out his matches and set the flag on fire without so much as a "by your leave" and absolutely no interference from local officials.
But when a group of veterans attempts to provide appropriate honor and respect they are told to get a fistful of permits and conduct their ceremony at some obscure corner where the public is not allowed!
Nonetheless it was truly an honor to have a veteran of Commander Wong's stature – and Mrs. Wong - visit us and we had a great turnout for his visit. I was honored to present the national commander with a copy of my book Masters of the Art, as was suggested by our state Legion office, and you could tell by the commentary after he left that the membership was duly impressed.
I hope he takes us up on our offer, if not this year, then certainly in coming years. I'm confidant that any town in Connecticut can show our colleagues a better reception than they get in New York City on Flag Day.
New York. My father lived there after he emigrated from Scotland in the 1920s. He grew up there, and for years I had family living there and we visited several times a year. One summer when I was a teen I saw Mickey Mantle hit and inside-the-park home run there and it was a day I have never forgotten.
Still, New York is … strange.
Thursday, May 24, 2012