Flying the National Colors, a Family Tradition

Today is the day when red, white and blue is flying everywhere you gaze. Commentator Jay Bookman remembers a summer decades ago when his father first taught him the ritual of putting up and taking down the American flag.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

On this big day for flag flying, we observe that U.S. companies report flag sales are down since 2003, hurt by Chinese imports. In response, states, including Minnesota, Tennessee and Arizona, are requiring state facilities to use only the American-made variety.

Commentator Jay Bookman remembers a summer decades ago when he first learned the ritual of taking care of the American flag.

JAY BOOKMAN: What we needed, dad said, was a flagpole. Not one of those flimsy ones that's just stuck on the side of the house with their puny little American flag hanging from it. What we needed was a real flagpole, a flagpole tall enough to put a real American flag rippling in the breeze where it belonged, where you had to look up at the sky to see it. And we needed to put that new flagpole right there in the middle of the yard.

So one weekend in the summer of 1967, we brought out the shovels, the concrete, the gravel. Dad and a couple of his buddies dug a deep hole and in a few hours, they had planted themselves a tall flagpole. The next morning, dad's color guard, me and my little brother, Allan(ph), reported for instructions. Raise the flag every morning. Take it down every evening. Fold it in the officially prescribed manner, and never ever allow it to touch the ground. Dad, you see, was a sergeant in the Air Force and he made sure we did it right.

We Americans love our flag. We fly it everywhere from courthouses and churches to car dealerships. We pledge allegiance to it. We sing songs about it. And this year, like every year, politicians are trying to make it a crime to burn the flag. Personally, I burned a flag or two in my time - not in protest, though. Dad would disown me if I have ever pulled anything like that. But, you see, Dad was a stickler about retiring flags that had faded or torn. And he taught us it would be the height of disrespect to just toss an old flag in the garbage.

Instead, when old glory grew too worn to stay in service, we would set it afire in a solemn little backyard ceremony then dispose of the ashes. Even today, July 4th, 2007, I'm offended every time I see a tattered flag still flying. That kind of desecration, done out of apathy and neglect, bugs me a lot more than flag burning as an act of protest. Flag burners understand its real power. Whatever you think about their judgment, they care enough to express their opinion. And apathy and neglect are far greater threats to our freedom than passion.

A couple of years ago, I happen to be in the area of our old house and I drove by to see it. A lot had changed in the old neighborhood. But if you can pardon the paraphrase, the visit gave proof to my eyes that our flagpole was still there. I can't say I was surprised. Dad always built things that last.

SIEGEL: Jay Bookman is a columnist for the Atlanta journal Constitution.

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