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franklin county times

It's just a flag

By By Craig Ziemba
July 4, 2002
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian.
Amid this week's Pledge of Allegiance ruckus I heard a few people voice the sentiment, "It's just a flag." That disturbed me because apparently some Americans have no idea how important our symbols are now and historically have been to our collective spirit.
Our flag represents the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; it represents our home; and it represents the freest form of government the world has ever known.
This week I chatted with my neighbor, Tom Collins, about what the flag meant to him. Tom was shot down in an F-4 Phantom over Vietnam in 1965 and spent the next seven years and four months being tortured, starved and abused as a prisoner of war.
When I asked how long he went without seeing a flag, he chuckled and said, "Well, seven years without seeing a real one." He told me that he and the other prisoners constantly constructed makeshift American flags out of anything they could sneak past the guards. They weren't the right shape, color, or size, but they were symbols of America just the same. Tom and the other POWs observed patriotic holidays and recited the Pledge of Allegiance even though they were tortured when they were caught doing so.
Why would men like Tom Collins feel so strongly about pieces of scrap cloth and paper that they would risk torture to have them if, "It's just a flag …?"
The 280 million of us Americans who enjoy freedom bought by men like Tom may never know exactly how he felt as he stepped off the plane at Andrews and saw the flag flying over American soil, but every now and then we may get a brief glimmer of the pride he must have felt when he saw the red, white and blue.
I remember coming back to the U.S. border after a trip to Mexico with a college buddy who had never left the country. We got off a bus crammed full of people and chickens and stepped out onto a hot, dirty sidewalk in a disreputable border town.
No matter where I've seen it, whether over an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, an airman's tent in the middle of nowhere, or a flagpole on 22nd Avenue, I have the same pride my friend felt every time I see our flag flying high.
As you celebrate the Fourth of July today, take a moment to thank God for men like Tom Collins, thank God for your freedom, and thank God for the United States of America.

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