Saturday, July 4, 2009

Oh, Say Can You See? Honor, Allegiance, and Old Glory


There are few stories more inspirational than this (edited for length) true account from Captain (now Senator) John S. McCain, USN, (Ret):

I spent five and one half years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. In the early years of our imprisonment, the NVA kept us either in solitary confinement or two or three to a cell. In 1971, they moved us from these conditions of isolation into large rooms with as many as 30 to 40 men to a room. This, as you can imagine, was a wonderful change––a direct result of the efforts of millions of Americans on behalf of a few hundred POWs, 10,000 miles from home.

One of those who moved into my room was a young man named Mike Christian.

Mike came from a small town near Selma, Alabama. He didn't wear a pair of shoes until he was 13 years old. At 17, he enlisted in the US Navy and later earned a commission by going to Officer Training School. He then became a Naval Flight Officer, who was shot down and captured in 1967.

Mike possessed a keen and deep appreciation for the opportunities this nation-–and our military-–can provide for people who want to work and succeed. He loved his country. As part of the change in treatment, the Vietnamese were allowing some prisoners to receive packages from home. Some of these packages held handkerchiefs, scarves and other items of clothing. Over the next couple of months, Mike made himself a bamboo needle and used a few of these materials to create an American flag, which he sewed on the inside of his shirt.

Every afternoon, before eating a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike's shirt on the wall of the cell and say the Pledge of Allegiance. This Pledge may not seem like the most important part of your day now, but I can assure you that, in that stark cell, it was indeed the most important and meaningful event of each day for us.

One day the Vietnamese searched our cell as they did periodically, discovered Mike's shirt with the flag sewn inside, and removed it. That evening they returned, opened the door of the cell, and for the benefit of all us, beat Mike Christian severely for the next couple of hours. Then, they opened the door of the cell and threw him in. We cleaned him up as best we could.

The cell in which we lived had a concrete slab in the middle on which we slept. Four naked light bulbs hung in each corner of the room. As I said, we tried to clean up Mike as well as we could. After the excitement died down, I looked into the corner of the room. Sitting there beneath that dim light bulb, with a piece of red cloth, another shirt and his bamboo needle, was my friend, Mike Christian. He was sitting there with his eyes swollen almost shut from the beating he had received, making another American flag.

He was not making the flag because it made Mike Christian feel better. He was making that flag because he knew how important it was to us to be able to pledge allegiance to our flag and our country.

The next time you say the Pledge of Allegiance, please don't allow yourself to forget the courage and the sacrifice that thousands of Americans have made to build our nation and promote freedom around the world. We must always remember our duty, our honor, and our country.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Do you know how the flag got its name, "Old Glory"? The following true account was related by Vera Saban in the September 1987 edition of The Friend.

Mary Jane Driver was eager and excited. James Buchanan had been elected President of the United States that year of 1856, and on such an occasion, as on all national holidays, her father flew their flag.

Mary Jane, her brothers and sisters, and a number of neighbor children gathered around her father, Captain William Driver, as he opened the camphorwood chest and removed the folded flag. Mary Jane knew how much he loved that flag, for he handled it with tender care. “That’s my Old Glory,” he told them proudly. Mary Jane never tired of hearing the story of the flag.

Her father had been born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1803, when the United States was very young. He had gone to sea when he was just thirteen. He loved the sea and ships, and he had become an expert seaman. By the time he was twenty-one, Mary Jane’s father had been made captain of a merchant ship, the Charles Doggett.

Captain Driver’s mother and his friends wanted to show him how happy they were about his new command, so they made a flag of worsted bunting for the Charles Doggett. It was a large flag, measuring nine feet five inches by seventeen feet. Captain Driver named the flag Old Glory.

“It was the proudest day of my life,” he told his children. “The flag looked beautiful flying up there on the mast of my ship.”

Old Glory flew from the mast of Captain Driver’s ship as he sailed to Australia and to Pitcairn Island—and on two voyages around the world.

But in 1837, when Mary Jane’s mother became ill, Captain Driver gave up his life at sea and settled his family in Nashville, Tennessee. It was here that Mary Jane grew up and where she watched her father take the flag out of his old sea chest on important occasions.

When the Civil War broke out, three of Mary Jane’s brothers fought for the Confederacy. Her father, however, remained loyal to the Union, the country of his flag. And because Nashville was in confederate hands, Captain Driver, fearful that his flag would be destroyed, hid it.

The Confederates knew that he had a Union flag, and several times they came to his home, demanding that he turn it over to them. Mary Jane’s heart beat fast on those occasions. But though Captain Driver allowed the soldiers to search his home, they were never able to find the flag.

Then, on February 25, 1862, Union forces entered Nashville. Mary Jane’s father asked a captain of an Ohio regiment to accompany him home, where he took his flag from its hiding place, stitched inside a quilt. Mary Jane watched proudly as soldiers escorted her father, carrying the folded flag, to the state’s legislative building. Once more his flag flew proudly in the breeze—this time over the Tennessee State Capitol! After the flag was raised, Captain Driver said, “I lived to raise Old Glory on the dome of the Capitol of Tennessee; I am now ready to die and go to my forefathers.”

Old Glory was flown throughout the night, and Captain Driver stayed at the capitol to guard the flag against possible harm.

The Ohio soldiers liked Captain Driver’s nickname for his flag, and as news of what had happened in Nashville spread, the term “Old Glory” became popular. Soon the Stars and Stripes came to be known as Old Glory on many battlefields.

In 1873 Captain Driver gave Mary Jane his dearest possession, Old Glory. He knew that she loved his flag, too, and would care for it. Mary Jane was very grateful, and for years she flew it on all holidays over her home in Nevada, where she had moved after she was married.

In 1886 Captain William Driver died. He was buried in Nashville. On his tombstone was engraved, “His ship. His country. And his flag, Old Glory.”

Usually the flag of the United States is flown only between sunrise and sunset, but Congress authorized a flag to fly day and night over Captain Driver’s grave.

Mary Jane kept Old Glory for many years as a reminder of her father and to honor the country that he had loved so dearly. Then, in 1922, she decided to give the flag to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Although Old Glory was worn and faded by then, it was put on display there with other famous historical flags of the United States.

Long may she wave.

I've always loved the sight of fireworks bursting in the sky over the Statue of Liberty. Whenever I read or hear the words of that lovely lady's noble inscription, celebration seems appropriate:

...Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


May God bless and keep our great nation.


Lisa said...

thank you, that was wonderful, a little rememberance for all of us

Anonymous said...

Hope you have a great Fourth of July!
Stopping by to give you a big welcome to the SITStahood. We are so glad you joined and look forward to seeing you around!

Carolyn said...

Your second story was new to me. How interesting! I love little bits of history.

Ryan said...

I wanted to welcome you to the SITStahood also. I really liked those two stories and hope you had a fun fourth of July. We are lucky to have been blessed with a free country.

em said...

and i didn't even know that i stole your title for the 4th. should have checked blogs first before i posted eh?;-) i know you're rolling in disgust.

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