|Sacrifices In The
2003 by Joni Bour
They are standing on the side of the highway in the pouring down rain, shouting and waving cardboard signs like” Honk for Peace “and “Impeach G.W.”. They are getting pretty wet and their signs are falling apart in the relentless Oregon rain. That probably should not make me smile. Then I see someone is holding an American flag upside down. Seeing that makes me MAD. They act as if this is some sort of great sacrifice for peace- standing there in the rain- shouting at people driving by. “That’s no sacrifice”, is what I want to yell at them and I start to roll down my window. But my husband stops me, “let them alone”, he says. I want to get out of the car right now and turn our flag upright but he won’t stop the car. I am so upset that I almost cry. My grandfathers fought for those colors I say to the window. “THEY AREN’T IN DISTRESS” I yell. “Stop the car”!!!!! But he just touches my arm and tries to calm me down. I want to tell them about a man I know. A good man who is going off to this war they are shouting about. I don’t want him to go, but I admire him for serving our country. He is a Doctor who has long since paid his dues, but has stayed in the Navy Reserves anyway. He does not glorify war. He is soft spoken, kind hearted and funny. He is a family man and works hard. He isn’t a war monger. One day not long ago, the traveling Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial was in our city. I was a volunteering there when he came to visit. He looked very sharp in his uniform as he walked up to a panel he seemed to know. He knelt down, removed his hat and then reached out to gently run his fingers over a name I could not see and said words I could not hear. Then he stood erect and snapped the salute of a real soldier, turned on his heel and walked away. He did not look back or he would have seen me and one of the many tears I shed on that hallowed ground. We bumped into each other not long after that and we took time to sit and visit. He mentioned that he had seen me at the Wall and wondered why I'd spent time there. He reached down and tapped the POW bracelet on my wrist and asked, “Is this the reason”? We both smiled a little smile. I asked him then, what he thought about this war at hand and he said he did not protest or condone war, but hoped instead that if “ it ever comes to it, that we will do the right thing and if they call me to go- my bags are already packed”.
Then there is another young man I know who has been called to duty again, his name is Randy. He served our country in the last desert war. He served our country well and had finished his duty. But he just received a certified letter in the mail that said he has been called to active duty. How can that be? I want to shout at those people on the corner, tell them it is time they do something for someone else. Randy’s father served as a Corpsman during the Vietnam War. His grandfather served in World War II and his great grandfather served with the Rainbow Division during World War I. As I sit here in the car in the pouring down rain, watching the soggy sign people, I think about all the men and women who have received that same kind of letter. How many hearts sagged while standing at that mailbox or while sitting at the kitchen table? Then how many shoulders squared themselves up and said, “Ok, there are some things I have to do now”. How many families, friends and employers know these real sacrifices? Sending four generations of your young sons to war, that is a sacrifice. Not waving a soggy cardboard sign in the rain.
I would never dispute anyone’s right to their beliefs, but I will however take cause with how they choose to express them. Too many men and women know what it is like to sleep in trenches in the rain, to have fought for their lives and freedom in the rain. Who have been hungry and alone or dying in the rain or the desert or the jungle for our right to stand on any street corner in America on any day and say anything we choose. It is because of the sacrifices of those who have gone before us that our flag has become a symbol of all that is good and right in the human spirit. It is a symbol of something greater than ourselves. Our flag represent our heritage, the legacy of our forefathers and of their highest aspirations and dreams of a great nation. This flag has flown over the most sacred of places and battlefields ever known. It is a symbol of what allows us to be what we want, say what we want and believe what we want. We as a people sometimes fall short of our goals, but our flag is a symbol of the American spirit, that we will never give up. We will bear any burden. So why wouldn’t you hang that flag proudly right next to your sign is what I want to ask the soggy sign people? Why would you fly your flag, my flag, our flag like you did is what I want to know. Upside down is an international signal of dire emergency or distress. Not a political statement. Our flag is not your toy. I know of men who died for what that flag symbolizes. I know men who were wounded. I know men and women who gave something of themselves we can’t define, something we can’t return to them for our flag to still wave.
As I sit in the rain waiting for the light to change it occurs to me that there have been sacrifices made by many people for many reasons and made in many different places. The people on the corner over there look at their watches hoping time will pass quickly so they can go home and be done with their sacrifice. They are prepared to be wet and cold, honked at and insulted for an entire hour. I can’t speak for others, but the reason I would like to swear at them, isn’t their view of the war at all. It is the way they’ve chosen to show it. They can say whatever they want and believe whatever they want. But they crossed my line when they turned my heart and our flag upside down. They have not earned the right to stand on that street corner, dishonoring our flag. Shame on them for having so little respect for where they came from or how they got here.
Joni has lived on the Oregon coast all her life. She enjoys writing, working on the Veterans History project and reading. She was a firefighter/EMT for seven years and considers those years some of the most important times of her life, life altering in many ways, none of which she would want to change, because all events have led to the person she is today.
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