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Seeing the beauty in Old Glory
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I don’t know how to explain it, but something happens when I see our American flag being presented in a ceremony.

A lump forms in my throat and my spine gets about as straight as it can.

That flag is a reminder of the many men in my family who have served our nation at wartime. I had uncles who served in World War II and a brother-in-law who was called to war in Iraq.

I have two flags associated with my dad. One draped his casket. The other was flown over the U.S. Capitol in his memory. I have triangular wooden boxes holding each of them.

Sometimes, I like to open them and feel the overlapping stitches of each star or the seams that separate the red and white stripes.

All sorts of legends exist about the design of our flag and the role of seamstress Betsy Ross. I don’t know the exact truth, but I know 238 years ago, it officially became the emblem of our country.

It was by the grace of God my daddy didn’t come home from Germany in a flag-draped coffin.

He loved this country and passed that love to his boys. We were coming of age at the end of the Vietnam War and didn’t choose the route of military service, but I have great respect for those who served under and fought for the flag.

I have seen that banner fly in some of the most beautiful places in this country. I have seen her waving over some of Washington’s most incredible sites. I was awestruck the first time I saw the Iwo Jima memorial where the Marines of the statue replicate the erection of our flag in one of the most memorable moments of World War II.

I have seen her at half-staff in our beautiful national cemeteries on the day of burials. Flying at the lowered level is a somber reminder we are conducting the final rites for one who served our nation with honor.

The folding of a flag with reverence is one of the most beautiful things I’ve witnessed. There is a meaning behind each of the 13 folds and it so touching. When the flag is presented to an aging widow who years before welcomed her husband back from war, it is a thing of beauty. When it is presented to a surviving spouse who recently sent a loved one off to war and is now seated at their burial, it is a moment of sadness and pain.

We get angry when people desecrate or burn our flag. But is that any worse than those who ignore her waving and the playing of our National Anthem at a sporting event?

You can’t force anybody to be patriotic. Some folks because of their religious beliefs will not salute our flag. While I don’t agree, I support their right to do so.

Still others are just ignorant about respect for the flag. That’s why they have to announce a reminder to remove your hats at car races.

But, oh, there is something beautiful about an old soldier who somehow finds the energy to stand on wobbly legs and lift a handful of bent fingers to salute the flag for which they once risked their life.

That’s one of those times you’ll find that lump in your throat.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on

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