Defending America
David Hackworth
10 June 1997


Our flag holds a special place in the hearts and minds of most Americans. Like many of us, I still get a chill down my spine when I see the stars and stripes -- a symbol of our patriotism, our sovereignty and our freedom -- snapping proudly in a stiff breeze, the magnificent guardian of American values, beliefs and national honor.

Our flag is the very soul of our country. When I see it, I think of Frances Scott Keys stirring words about how "by the dawn's early light," he saw that "our flag was still there;" or of our brave Marines hoisting Old Glory to show that bloody Iwo Jima was ours; or of the Kuwaiti citizens unfurling our flag even before the Iraqi invaders had been booted out of their savaged country during Desert Storm.

Retired U.S.A.F. Colonel Leo K. Thorsness, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor says:

"You've probably seen the bumper sticker somewhere along the road. It depicts an American Flag, accompanied by the words 'These colors don't run.' I'm always glad to see this, because it reminds me of an incident from my confinement in North Vietnam... Then a Major in the U.S. Air Force, I had been captured and imprisoned Our treatment had been frequently brutal.

After three years, however, the beatings and torture became less frequent. During the last year, we were allowed outside most days for a couple of minutes to bathe. We showered by drawing water from a concrete tank with a homemade bucket. One day as we all stood by the tank, stripped of our clothes, a young Naval pilot named Mike Christian found the remnants of a handkerchief in a gutter that ran under the prison wall. Mike managed to sneak the grimy rag into our cell and began fashioning it into a flag.

At night, under his mosquito net, Mike worked on the flag. He made red and blue from ground-up roof tiles and tiny amounts of ink and painted the colors onto the cloth with watery rice glue. Using thread from his own blanket and a homemade bamboo needle, he sewed on stars.

Early in the morning a few days later, when the guards were not alert, he whispered loudly from the back of our cell, 'Hey gang, look here.' He proudly held up this tattered piece of cloth, waving it as if in a breeze. If you used your imagination, you could tell it was supposed to be an American flag.

When he raised that smudgy fabric, we automatically stood straight and saluted, our chests puffing out, and more than a few eyes had tears. About once a week the guards would strip us, run us outside and go through our clothing. During one of those shakedowns, they found Mike's flag. We all knew what would happen. That night they came for him. Night interrogations were always the worst. They opened the cell door and pulled Mike out. We could hear the beginning of the torture before they even had him in the torture cell. They beat him most of the night. About daylight they pushed what was left of him back through the cell door. He was badly broken; even his voice was gone.

Within two weeks, despite the danger, Mike scrounged another piece of cloth and began another flag. The Stars and Stripes, our national symbol, was worth the sacrifice to him.

Now, whenever I see the flag, I think of Mike and the morning he first waved that tattered emblem of a nation. It was then, thousands of miles from home in a lonely prison cell, that he showed us what it is to be truly free."

Sadly, now it has become routine for the ignorant and despicable to desecrate our flag. Daily we hear of accounts of Old Glory being burned, trashed, worn as clothing and subject to even fouler treatment.

I often wonder what Mike and Leo and all the other men and women who have stood tall for our flag must now be thinking.

I pray Congress and our President will stop dragging their political feet and take immediate action to guard the Stars and Stripes.

At least 81 percent of our citizens now want our flag protected by law. Why don't our politicians hear their voices and do their duty.

The End