I recently attended a funeral for my 95-year-old friend, Roy Pitts. He was a World War II veteran, retired Atlanta police Lieutenant and attorney investigating fraud for the state of Georgia. He was a product of “the greatest generation” with a lifetime of public service and friendship to those fortunate enough to encounter his presence.
While greeting family and friends, I was introduced to a retired Fulton County police officer that made a gesture and accompanied a statement that gave me great pause. He reached out and respectfully laid his hand on the American flag that draped Roy’s casket and said something to the effect, “I don’t understand why anyone would desecrate this flag by burning it … do you?” I drew an absolute blank, incapable of generating a response that could possibly explain the heinous act of destroying Old Glory.
You see, he and I share the same extreme respect for our symbol of freedom. We both became emotional every time our stars and stripes passed by in a parade or formal dedication. I am certain I was raised right, no matter who says there is no “right” way to be raised.
When I was in elementary school, I was selected to be Captain of our safety patrol. Our physical education teacher and safety patrol coordinator, Mr. Driscoll, showed with painstaking detail the correct way to raise, lower, fold and store our flag, which the patrol was responsible for at the beginning and end of each day.
I remember like it was yesterday, him saying if the flag touches the ground, we would have to burn it. Now we were small in stature and this flag was a big ‘ol 6’x8’ monstrosity. There were days when the wind would cause our flag to become like a sail on a ship, and we had to fight with all our tiny might to keep it from making the slightest contact with the ground.
We also learned at school that a good citizen does not litter. To this day I can’t even throw a piece of gum wrapper down on the ground. Opening doors for ladies and never interrupting grown folks when they are talking was ingrained at an early age, too.
What would cause this determination? Simply … respect. Respect that our flag has earned in every armed conflict, every effort to stake our claim as a country, every funeral that honors sacrifice and bravery, and even to mark our landing on the surface of the moon.
Some would say it’s our freedom that gives us the right to burn and disrespectfully destroy our American flag in the exercise of our First Amendment right of free speech. Some hate this country so much that destroying our flag causes no twinge of reflection to the alternative they pursue. Have they stopped to count their blessings a life in America brings?
We should understand there are acts that absolutely cross the line, like disrespecting the American flag, no matter the cause or personal/political agenda. Screaming “fire” in a crowded movie theater could be viewed as an act of free speech, but totally crosses the line of common sense, venturing into acts of criminality.
I heard this week that our country is 49%-49%, and that was said over 20 years ago. Personally, I think some of our fellow citizens have a moral compass that spins so fast they could use it as a box fan.
I’m glad some of us still earnestly respect the American flag and patriots, like Roy, that live a life of service and honor and earn a hero’s send-off to his reward in Heaven.
W.J. Butcher is a Coweta County resident and retired 26-year veteran of the Atlanta Police Department. Send comments, kudos, and criticism to: email@example.com .