I grew up in a small village in Kansas. The place was unincorporated--nothing but a wide spot in the highway. At one time the place had a small train depot as the Rock Island and Frisco lines intersected on the east side of the orderly accumulation of houses, sheds and a barn or two. I started school, only a block away, in an old brick building that had four grades in one room and four in another. There was an auditorium upstairs. The community built a new school building with a lot of the then moderm amenities, but what I remember most was the giant flag pole in the front of the school. On that pole flew the American flag everyday. Older students were given the responsibility to raise and lower the flag each day. Many of us thought such duty was an honor, so no one ever complained about standing out in the cold, shaking the snow and ice off the rope, and then making sure the line would move freely through the pullies. Most mornings, a small group of us would gather as our friends and classmates raised the flag, regardless of weather.
In the late 50's, my dad volunteered to become the temporary postmaster of our small community. He eventually took all the tests, got the Presidential appointment, and remained the postmaster until the end of his life in 1982. My mother worked as the postal clerk, as Dad had a day job working for Kansas Power and Light. So everyday for as long as I can remember, the rural delivery guy brought sacks of mail to our house around 6 am everyday but Sunday. Mom or Dad would be up waiting, and then would post the mail into about 40 boxes. Then, at around 7 am, our neighbors, one by one, would come into the post office to get their mail, buy money orders and stamps and catch up on the news of the day. You see, the post office was actually in my house. Dad partitioned off one of the bedrooms and turned it into a very tidy government office. When I was older, I would go into the post office and use the typewriter to prepare term papers and letters of application to colleges and the service academies. Some of my greatest memories have that post office in the middle of my thoughts. I will never forget going in to tell my mother that I had been accepted to the Air Force Academy. I think she already knew, but she never let on.
Every post office is considered government property and as such must have certain features. In the front of the house was a typical big blue mailbox. Yes, people would drive up, drop off their mail at all hours of the day and night, but we had to have one. No post office is complete, however, without a flag pole and an American flag flying every day of operation. Seeing my Dad or Mom go out everyday to raise the flag was something special. When I got older, I got to do it on Saturdays. When I went off to the academy, my brother Allen picked up the duties. You see, the flag was an integral part of our lives--something we touched nearly everyday.
I remember when John Kennedy was killed and my parents openly weeping as events unfolded. I had never seen my father emotional over anything, and the assination of the president affected him like nothing before or after. Those days, the flag was at half-staff. There were other days when the flag would be raised to the top then lowered half-way. Those days meant the nation was mourning someone or honoring something that was part of the American fabric. As I grew older, I began to understand a lot more about our flag and what it represented. Going into the service only reinforced those thoughts.
When my father died, Mom kept the post office open, even though she had every reason to close it for a day or so. She had permission from the postal service to do so, but chose not to. Dad would not have had it that way. At Dad's funeral, his casket was draped in the American Flag. I would always remember that Dad fought in two wars on two different continents for two very different reasons. He was a veteran, and he was so honored.
In the years to come, I would be faced with countless occasions when the flag would be proudly flown, lowered to half-staff or draped over a coffin. There were too many of the latter to count, it seemed. I used to volunteer for the fly-bys for my fallen friends, mostly because being in the chapel was just too much. Being in a jet seemed the best way to honor these fallen warriors. Every plane I flew had an American flag on it. I wore one on the sleeve of my flight suit and jacket. The American flag was, as it should be, everywhere.
Much has happened since I retired from the Air Force in 1996. I have moved often, changed jobs numerous times, found the love of my life and have finally settled into an imperfect but happy life. I live in the country with my family and the dogs, but something is still missing from this idyllic setting. At the urging of my wonderful wife, I think today I will go shopping for a flag pole to put in the yard. I can't think of a better way to honor all who have given the ultimate sacrifice for this nation on this Memorial Day weekend than to place on my property a way to display the most significant symbol of the greatest nation on earth. Yes, I will get a flag pole today. God Bless all who serve and God Bless the United States of America.
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