Emblem of freedom

This 1942 lithograph, Emblem of Freedom, hung on the wall of my grandfather’s liquor store in the Prather Building in Advance. I was always fascinated by the perspective.

I lost track of what I had done with it. It was over the mantle in our living room for a long time, but we shuffled other images up there over the years.

When I was packing for my trip back to Cape Friday morning, I looked in the back of our guest room closet for some stuff I had stashed there. It was behind some framed collections of old press passes.

Not visible in 1946

The flag picture isn’t visible in this 1946 photo of Roy Welch’s store. That’s Mother and Grandmother Elsie Welch in the photo.

The store had been rearranged by the time I was old enough drive my toy tractor round and round the floor, looping through the small store room in the back left. In the winter, some of the regulars would cluster around the old stove visible toward the back right.

I remember the counters being on the north or right wall. The shelves with the bottles were on the left wall.

In background in Spin City

A copy of the flag picture showed up frequently in the background of a TV situation comedy. I’m pretty sure it was Spin City, starring Michael J. Fox. It got so I would look for it as the camera panned the room.

Our Pearl Harbor

It was our generation’s Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t going to write about it because everybody else in the world is going to do “where I was stories.” To get THAT out of the way, I was in Cape. Mother said something about a building on fire in New York. I looked at the TV and thought, just like I had when I first saw the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City in flames on April 19, 1995, that it was a gas explosion. Soon, in both cases, we discovered a darker reason for the flames: terrorism.

The scramble to get home

I called Wife Lila in West Palm Beach and we shared our fears.

I hurried to a Cape gas station to fill up for a quick trip back to Florida. I wasn’t sure if gas was going to be available – or how much it was going to cost – for the return.

On the way south, I drove under an overpass near Nashville that had a massive American Flag hanging from it. I’ve never seen so many flags flying. I also noticed that drivers were more polite – they’d give you a wave to let you know it was OK to pull out and you’d acknowledge it in kind.

Where was the shared sacrifice?

Of course, that only lasted for a short while. Instead of experiencing the shared sacrifices of World War II, we were told to go shopping. Instead of cutting back on energy consumption, we demonstrated our patriotism by hanging “Support our Troops” magnetic ribbons on the back of gas-guzzling SUVs. Instead of drafting a cross-section of American society, putting everybody at risk, we had a volunteer army that meant it was unlikely that you had any literal skin in the game. Politicians like Rudy¬†Giuliani whose sentences, according to Joe Biden, consist of “a noun, a verb, and 9/11” wrapped themselves in the flag and rushed us into two wars for dubious reasons.

Osama Bin Laden, for the price of 19 airline tickets, managed to cripple our economy and made us give up freedoms and privacy. Mission accomplished.

Flags still thrill me

Still, as I travel across this great land, I’m still thrilled to see our Flag flying. These were taken at the North County Park, Overbey Farms outside Murray, Ky., the Jackson City Hall and a florist in Gastonia, NC. These are AMERICAN flags. They don’t belong to politicians and political parties and they should be used to unite, not divide us.

Flags Coming Down

I promised myself that I wasn’t going to do another North County Park flag picture, even if it was the Fourth of July.

Then, on my way back from Perry County at the tailend of the afternoon, I saw the flags were coming down. I knew, of course, that somebody had to put them up at dawn and taken them down before dusk, but knowing something isn’t the same as seeing it.

Controlled chaos: no conking

Volunteer Jerry Hampton said most of the work was being done by VFW Post 3838, members of Boy Scout Troop 5 and folks from the Delta 1st Baptist Church. If I missed anyone, I apologize.

The workers acted in controlled chaos. Despite flag poles whirling and spinning all around, I didn’t see anyone conked or speared. They teamed up to handle the flags respectfully and to make sure they never touched the ground.

These flags are special

Those of us who visit the parks and appreciate the beauty of the flags flowing in the wind need to keep some things in mindL

  • Volunteers work hard when it’s cold and when it’s hot to put the flags up and to take them down.
  • Families donate the flags to honor their relatives who were in the service.
  • Each flag once covered the casket of someone who served to protect our freedoms.

Other stories about the display

Flag display gallery

Click on any photo to see a larger photo of these hard-working volunteers, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

Veterans Day Flag Display

Mother suggested we swing by North County Park to see the flag display on the way to run some errands. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that crazy about doing it because I shot it Veterans Day 2010.

Here’s something I learned at my third newspaper: Things are going to keep coming around like clockwork. When you shoot an event the first time, it’s exciting. Well, maybe not exciting, but interesting. When the anniversary of that event comes around the next year, you have to scratch to drum up some enthusiasm for it. Just before the third iteration of it came around, I found myself gathering up my portfolio and sending out resumes. There was always a little cog in my head that would click when I recognized it was time to head out to a new newspaper.

Finally, by the time I got to The Palm Beach Post, I figured out that all newspapers were screwed up and, when you find one that’s a little less screwed up than most, you should stay. When I was coming up on my magic three-year anniversary at The Post, they made me department head, so I could send other photographers out to shoot that recurring assignment.

Headed off to active duty

So, anyway, we ended up at the park. Even though I had been there, done that, it’s such a moving spectacle, particularly on a windy day, that I had to get the camera out. There was a photographer and a young couple dressed in Navy duds blocking traffic while she was taking their photo. When I say “young,” I mean young enough that they looked like they should be playing with plastic boats in the bathtub, not going off to active duty, which is where they were headed.

It’s considered bad form to horn in on another photographer’s shoot, so I took this from a discrete distance and then left them alone.

Just back from Afghanistan

When I got out of the car, a young guy wearing a black Airborne T-shirt had just taken some photos and was walking back to his car.

“Sure is purty, ain’t it,” I said in passing.

“It is to me,” he said. “I just got back from Afghanistan.”

All I had time to say before he disappeared was, “Thank you for your service.”

Missourian blogger James Baughn beat me to the story this morning, but I can’t improve on his headline, “Blog without words: Veterans Day flag display at Cape County Park North.”

More flag photos

Be warned: if I’m in Cape next year at this time, I’m either going to have to get my portfolio ready to mail or I’m going to have to skip going to North County Park. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the picture to move through the gallery.