I love to write short stories that offer inspiration to those who read them. I have decided to capture these stories, like The Flag Thing, in a book that I hope to publish in 2016 (or maybe 2017 or 2018). Every few months, I will send out another chapter that I am considering for the book so that I can get some feedback. Please note each story is only the introduction to the chapter, not the entire chapter. I usually send out the chapters over email, but this time I thought I would include it in our newsletter. I value your comments, thoughts, and observations- so please send them to me! 

When my kids were young, I coached their Little League and softball teams for more than ten years. Before each game, we would line the teams up along the first and third baselines and have one player from each team walk out to the pitcher’s mound and hold the American flag. Back then, I had one of those big, clunky boom boxes (which I had to replace every few seasons as dust from the field ruined them completely), and we would play The Star-Spangled Banner. The kids took off their caps and placed their hands over their hearts; some of them would sing and some of them would stand there and fidget, but before every game without fail, they would trot out onto the field and listen to the national anthem.

This flag ceremony happened well over a hundred times, and looking back there were two things that amazed me. First, as I looked around the stands, the parents and grandparents stood proudly with hands over their hearts, their hats off, mouthing the words or singing in a low whisper. A few of them even had tears in their eyes – to be honest, I am still not sure if they were crying because the kids were so cute, or because of the unexpected burst of patriotism they felt upon hearing the anthem. Either way, the small patriotic act of playing the national anthem before our baseball games elicited an emotional response.

Second, I never quite understood this, but throughout the decade that I coached, I never saw another coach do the same thing. They all respected what we were doing and had their team line up along the baselines with our team, but there were never any copycats. Before each game, I would walk over to the other coaches and mention that I would like to play the national anthem, and everyone always happily and proudly participated. Maybe they just didn’t have a boom box or a flag.

After about ten years, three boom boxes, and probably over 100 renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner, we had made it to the championship game for the Fourth Grade Girls’ Softball League. Just before the game was about to start, the opposing coach came up to me and asked, “Hey Steve – are we going to do that ‘flag thing’ before the game?”

I responded, “By the ‘flag thing,’ are you referring to the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem, and the tradition of playing it before a ball game? Yes, yes we are going to be doing the ‘flag thing.’”

To this he replied, “Well, it takes too long to line everyone up, and we have to get the game going.”

I suggested to him that if he wanted to, he could leave his team in the dugout and watch – but my team, the umpires, and all the spectators at the game would rise, take off their hats, and sing The Star-Spangled Banner.

In the end, both teams participated in the “flag thing” and the game was played without any delay.

The reason for the story is that, but for a few exceptions, virtually every American feels a sense of pride, patriotism and duty when they hear the first few chords of The Star-Spangled Banner and see the American flag rise. I still get goosebumps every time.

This coming weekend is Memorial Day, and although I never served in the military, I have had a number of close friends as well, as my dad and his dad before him, who have served. One of my closest friends was on the first SEAL team in Vietnam. I’ve talked to him many times over the years about his experience serving his country. He would speak of the daily pervasive, daunting question always at the back of his mind: “Is today the day I will die for my country, or will I get to live another day?”

I always get very, very emotional when I think about him and the sacrifices and the unimaginable challenges he and every member of the military have to face every day. For me, the basic exercise of having five- to twelve-year-olds participate in singing the national anthem was (and continues to be) simply the right thing to do. It is a sign of respect to the generations of Americans who have fought and sacrificed their lives for future generations, as well as to the millions of Americans today who voluntarily put their lives on the line so that we may continue to live ours. As the kids stood out there and looked into the stands, they saw the impact the national anthem had on their parents and grandparents; they could see the pride it instilled in those who served, and the gratitude expressed by those who did not.

Maybe the kids got it, and maybe they didn’t – there were certainly a few adults who didn’t get the “flag thing” – but it was one small thing I could do to thank those who had served, honor those who had fallen, and maybe instill a little patriotism, pride, and gratitude in the kids.

The point of this chapter is patriotism, and while I evidently do not have the space to say everything I’d like to, as you start your summer holiday, enjoy a three-day weekend and relax with your family and friends, please be sure to look up to the sky and say thank you to the men and women who gave their lives so we could all live a more peaceful one.

Please take 3 minutes to watch the video per this link. It will make you count your blessings and thank those who gave their “all” for us to have a better life.

“The dead soldier’s silence sings our national anthem.” – Rev. Aaron Kilbourn

For other stories like this, please check out our book, The Toughest Guy I Ever Knew and Other Short Stories.

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