Thursday, June 30, 2011

Independence Day

The Fourth of July is a midsummer holiday weekend that is filled with parades, fireworks, picnics, ball games, and races. Americans are heading to the national parks, getting the boats and water skis out and, of course, celebrating what the holiday is all about in the first place.

It marks the anniversary of when the United States signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

At most public events this weekend there will be special events honoring our break to freedom some 235 years ago. It might be as simple as a recording of the National Anthem at the Saturday night jalopy races. Larger gatherings like Major League baseball games and the races at Daytona will have pre-event military-themed ceremonies honoring our country. We will honor our military people who have fought and died for our country, as well as our POWs, MIAs and our military on the job today, here and around the world. We will honor our veterans and the part they played in our country’s ongoing fight to live free.

Being a veteran myself I’m always up for these ceremonies and participating, even if it’s only rendering a hand salute to the colors.

The last few years I have been especially interested in who does the military hand salute when the National Anthem is played or when the flag passes in a parade, or taps are played and so on.

In 2008 President Bush signed a new flag code into law that allows veterans to salute during any of the above, whether in uniform or covered (a hat) or not. I support this 100 percent, but I’m not sure why it’s a law. Flag code must be the key word; otherwise, if it’s just a law, well, laws can be broken and you can be arrested. I can’t imagine an idiot buying a 20-star general’s hat at the army surplus and being arrested for saluting or not saluting the flag. Not in this country anyway.

As for the veterans saluting out of uniform, I think it should (as it is) be left up to the veteran. Whatever you are comfortable with. There is some debate on this, with plenty of folks on both sides. Personally, being a Navy vet I try to wear a ball cap with USN logo, American Legion cap or one I have from my Navy outfit. As some do, I feel a little uncomfortable saluting without being covered. I guess this would validate it.

As for me, all I have to do is attend or watch a major sporting event – Major League baseball for one – and notice all the people honoring the colors with the hand salute. Police and firemen in uniform, security guards and if there is a contingent of Boy Scouts there they will be saluting as well. Even for our presidents, although a couple of recent ones never served in the military, the president’s protocol dictates that he render a hand salute when boarding or leaving Air Force One. I’m sure there are other instances.

If it’s proper for all these folks to honor the flag with a hand salute, why in the world would there be any question as to whether the veteran is afforded this honor/privilege? Just to touch all the bases, I’m sure there are veterans out there who have worn police-firemen-Boy Scout-Security Guards uniforms as well as the G.I. issue.

Here’s my favorite memory of saluting, and I’m sure it wasn’t covered by any protocol. It came while attending a Veterans Day ceremony here at home. It was a few minutes before the program started, and several of us were outside standing around. We were near a very old man bent over, with Coke bottle glasses, wearing a ragged, baggy, World War II army uniform with sergeant’s stripes.

Also outside mingling through the crowd was a full Navy captain, immaculate in his dress blues, standing tall. Directly, he came to where the old man was and the old gentlemen stood up as straight as he could and saluted the captain. The captain quickly returned the salute and they spoke for a few minutes. I couldn’t hear what they said, but I did wish I had brought a camera.