If you visited the Air National Guard’s training center here in East Tennessee this week coming from any other U.S. active duty, National Guard or Reserve military installation, there would be one thing that you would notice the same – the American flag at half-staff.
The President and the governors can order the flag flown half-staff through the U.S. Flag Code in memorialization. This time, flags were raised to their peak, then lowered to halfway in honor of those victims of murder and assault in Las Vegas.
“Our Nation is heartbroken,” proclaimed President Donald Trump, in his notice for the American flag to fly half-staff, Oct. 2 to Oct. 6. Meaning, a week of reflection before the Columbus Day weekend. “As we grieve, we pray that God may provide comfort and relief to all those suffering.”
These past years, I’d instead not recall how often I’ve walked across the base in the morning to see “Old Glory” flying below its peak to honor Americans under tragic events. It’s too often.
Some, including myself, take to heart every half-staffed American flag. The symbolism collects inside until it wells up. The flag is the ultimate point of shared citizenship, especially if you are in ranks for a military reveille or retreat. We stand at attention here and salute when the flag gets lowered and folded for the day and when the National Anthem plays.
During half-staff days, I find strength and inspiration in the story of William Driver.
Sea captain William Driver owned the original flag nicknamed Old Glory. Historians said that his mother crafted it and gave it to him in 1824 when he became a shipmaster and commander.
Driver flew his flag on voyages around the world and throughout his naval command. He wrote, “it has ever been my staunch companion and protection. Savages and heathens, lowly and oppressed, hailed and welcomed it at the far end of the world. Then, why should it not be called Old Glory?”
In his retirement, Driver hid Old Glory in a bed quilt in his home from Confederate forces during the Civil War. Troops raided his property and tried to seize it but came up short. Driver ensured that it was flown over Nashville in plain view in 1862 after the retaking of the city by Union forces.
Pointing out Driver’s tenacity, Union aide-de-camp, Brig Gen. William Nelson, who ordered Driver’s flag raised that day, hailed Old Glory, “which has so creditable a history and a townsman so sturdy as Capt. William Driver, its patriotic owner, when patriotism was fraught with great personal danger.”
The brave choice of pressing on in our freedoms today is not far removed.
Maybe it pulls at your heartstrings too, every time you see the flag lower than it should be. Every American flag is Old Glory, and every half-staff is a gesture of high citizenship and honor.
In the face of violence without cause during this moment in our history, I pray that we do not hide patriotism for fear of retribution.