As we reflect on the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, let us all take a moment to consider the lyrics from the Grandioso stanza in “The Stars and Stripes Forever” composed by John Philip Sousa:
“Hurrah for the flag of the free! May it wave as our standard forever, the gem of the land and the sea, the banner of the right.”
Reading the unfamiliar lyrics to the popular march we have all heard at some point in the past week reminds me of when I first took notice of the American flag, and how I learned what it symbolizes.
As the grandson of Sgt. Chester Dropka, I remember at a young age I would routinely attend events held at North Riverside VFW Post #6869. Drinking my ginger ale at the bar one day, I recall seeing a photo with a group of men raising the American flag high up into the air on a rocky surface.
Upon questioning my grandfather, it was explained that this picture actually included local Riverside resident and post member, Pfc. James R. Michels who was part of the combat patrol that climbed up Mount Suribachi and raised the first American flag, during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, on Feb. 23, 1945.
Although I didn’t quite yet understand everything that was explained to me, I understood that the flag was very important, especially if Pfc. Michels needed to protect the raising with his carbine rifle.
My understanding of the flag continued as I was taught to stand up as the VFW honor guard passed by in North Riverside Fourth of July parades. A small gesture, yet so important to influencing a child’s interest and curiosity towards the flag.
I was taught that the American flag stands for everything great about America. The flag stands for the ideals of our nation — things like independence, justice, equality and most of all, individual freedom.
It is all too easy to pass dozens of flags — on buildings, in hallways, on uniforms — in a given day without giving it a second thought. And I consider myself lucky, having outside school activities that influenced my respect and understanding towards the flag. It’s the small gestures in my childhood that led me to question everything and learn, as all kids do. We must remember; what the flag represents, must never be taken for granted.