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My Father’s Flag

The flag meant so much to my war veteran father. His patriotism was inspiring to me.

Kathryn Slattery and her father

Maybe you've noticed: Flag Day usually comes up on the calendar right around Father's Day. My dad would like that.

When I was a 9-year-old girl in Medfield, Massachusetts, the highlight of the year was marching with my Brownie troop in the town's Memorial Day parade. 

Even today, I vividly remember marching behind the high school band and the DAR ladies in their vintage bustles and gaily feathered hats. We smiled and cheered and waved tiny American flags distributed by the Kiwanis Club men. 

The parade route ended at our town's cemetery. There I met up with Dad, and together we listened to a long speech delivered by the town's oldest World War I veteran. I quickly grew bored and my thoughts drifted away like a dandelion puff on the soft summer breeze. But not Dad. He stood tall and alert, and cocked his head to catch every word.

My father had served in the Naval Air Transport Service during World War II, and as the soldiers at the cemetery gave their 21-gun salute and the trumpeter played "Taps," his eyes never left the flag. 

Looking back, I can't help but wonder: Who knew what lost friends my father was mourning?

As I grew older, I admit that Dad's patriotism sometimes embarrassed me. A lot. I wanted to hide when he lustily bellowed every last word of  "The Star Spangled Banner" at high school football games. Not only that. Sometimes he would get all misty-eyed. I just couldn't understand what made my father tear up at the sight of the flag.

One day I asked him.

"The flag stands for everything we believe in," he said. "Freedom. Justice. Sacrifice."   

Those were the values my father lived his life by. 

When Dad died, a large flag draped his casket, courtesy of U.S. Veterans Affairs.   

"You take it," my mother said to me after the funeral, handing me the folded triangle of red, white and blue. "Dad would want you to have it. One day you can pass it on to your children."

I took the flag home and put it away for safekeeping on the top shelf of a closet. That was more than 25 years ago. Over the years I have taken it out and hung it more than I ever thought I would—and not on just the obvious holidays. I put it out on Veterans Day, and on September 11, and, of course, on June 14—Flag Day.

This year I think I'll keep it up for Father's Day to remind myself of those enduring values my Dad talked about: Freedom. Justice. Sacrifice. They would never survive without getting passed along—by everyday patriots like my father.

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