I’ve always stood for the playing of the National Anthem and the presentation of the American flag.
Has it always been a mark of honor and respect? Or had it become somewhat of a rote habit?
The recent dustups in the NFL with professional athletes sitting or kneeling contrary to the custom of standing with an attitude and posture of respect, coupled with an extended stay in Paris have broadened and deepened my appreciation of this long standing flag etiquette.
Thousands of American, British, Canadian and French soldiers, sailors and airmen died bringing liberty back to captive France in 1944. More than 18,000 French civilians also died in pushing out the evil of Nazism from France and restoring liberty. Many of the civilian deaths were due to the heavy allied bombings of the coastal Norman cities in places like Saint Lo and Caen.
The reception of the “liberators” was mixed as could be expected – towns and homes were destroyed, and loved ones lost in the carnage.
But what I found some 73 years later were many memorials of much gratitude on the part of the French. And this gratitude seemed to extend from 1944 to the present day. For example, in driving to the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, I looked up at the second floor of an old building and saw three small and tattered flags – French, British and American. These flags, off the beaten tourist path showed me that someone still held a heart of gratitude.
And in researching further, I found this story:
“ … Franck Maurouard and his family of Normandy, France, have not forgotten the sacrifices made by American soldiers trying to liberate France from German occupation during World War II.
Each Memorial Day for the past 10 years, Franck, his wife, Anne, and their children, Alexandre, 16, and Eloise, 14, have decorated the graves of two American Rangers who died in the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944.
They volunteered to care for the graves in Colleville sur Mer cemetery by applying to Les Fleurs de la Memoire, an organization that encourages French citizens to remember on Memorial Day the graves of Americans who gave their lives to liberate France and who remain forever in French soil. Les Fleurs de la Memoire (lesfleursdelamemoire.com) represents 132 French Fraternal Associations, 70 French towns and villages, and 3,677 French citizens who have adopted, in perpetuity, 10,451 graves.
Maurouard, who served in the French Navy for 17 years and is now a laboratory technician at the school where his wife teaches, requested to be assigned the grave of one Ranger from the 2nd Battalion and another from the 5th Battalion. But he has done far more than decorate the graves of Pvt. Joseph Trainor of Wisconsin and Pvt. Elmo Banning of Sedan, Kan.
He researched the details of their deaths and shortened lives and searched for their surviving relatives. He and his family developed a close relationship with Pvt. Banning’s family, now residing in California. … “ Read more here and here.
I’ve walked the grounds of Colleville sur Mer, and yes, there are flowers at the foot of the grave markers – in 2017.
There are similar stories to be found from other places of liberation.
Why do so many in France still honor their liberators from 1944?
I believe it is because liberty has value. And because liberty has value, there is a cost for its purchase, and a cost for its restoration when lost. I believe the French, having lost and regained liberty, go to great lengths to honor that cost – a cost measured in the many lives lost in achieving liberty once more.
Fortunately we here in the United States have not experienced the traumatic loss of liberty as was experienced in France in the 1940s. Many of our military have witnessed that loss of liberty elsewhere, and have fought to purchase or restore liberty in hostile places far from home. There is a yearning for liberty among the oppressed of the world – always has been and always will be.
Perhaps those professional athletes irreverently sitting before the flag are in ways they, or we, may not fully understand – perhaps they are sitting in ways reflecting that yeaning for liberty they perceive as having been lost.
I respect that right of expression. In years past, and even today, many say “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”
My wish is that our younger generations would be taught the lessons of places like 1944 France. My wish is that they would learn these lessons and honor those many who did “ … fight to the death for your right to say it.”
Martin Luther King Jr. found another way to achieve huge change for the good in this nation. Would that the NFL athletes seek other avenues of change.
Don Johnson – October 2017
Has it been