Gil Mertz | The Stars and Stripes: It’s Still a Grand Old Flag

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“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

As Americans, this is our pledge. Our solemn promise. Our highest and most noble of goals. 

We’ve seen this pledge soar to the highest of human triumph through the establishment of the world’s most free and charitable nation in the history of the world. And we’ve seen this pledge violated by the worst of human depravity through slavery, prejudice and bigotry. But despite our setbacks, it remains our pledge to truly be a nation with liberty and justice for all. 

And this holy pledge is embodied in our American flag. Some see the flag as a symbol of oppression. Others see it as a meaningless piece of cloth. While still others see it as an object of abuse to be spit on and burned. I see these people as woefully ignorant of history and extraordinarily ungrateful.

The very conception of the flag was to unify the nation, not divide it. The colonies and militias used a variety of different flags but there needed to be one flag that could unify the country as one nation. A humble seamstress in Philadelphia was commissioned to create our first flag adorned with 13 stars and stripes. It was this glorious banner that brought the country together and launched an unprecedented dream for freedom and opportunity.

During the War of 1812, it was the American flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Chesapeake Bay and withstood more than 1,800 bombs from British warships over a 24-hour period. After such a mighty bombardment, the fact that our flag was still there turned the tide of the war and inspired our national anthem. 

Some 50 years later, this same American flag would be bloodied by the Civil War as Union soldiers waved it proudly to rid our nation from the evils of slavery. Almost 180,000 Black soldiers also fought under this same flag. I guarantee you these freed slaves did not see the American flag as a symbol of oppression.

In World War II after the defeat of the Imperial Japanese Army on the strategic base of Iwo Jima, soldiers celebrated this momentous victory by proudly raising the American flag. It was a symbol of freedom and honor over tyranny and fascism for all the world.

During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, mostly Black protesters would peaceably march and conduct sit-ins in various cities. All the while, carrying the American flag as part of their protests. 

More than 600 million people in 1969 watched breathlessly as astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon and proclaimed, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” and then placed the American flag on the moon’s surface. 

In the early 1990s, America led an international coalition into Kuwait to drive Saddam Hussein and his army back to Baghdad. It was a proud time for our country as we needed to exorcise the demons of Vietnam. 

At the 1991 Super Bowl, with more than a billion people watching, Whitney Houston took the stage and sang perhaps the greatest version of our national anthem we’ve ever heard.

There was no kneeling at THAT game. In fact, there were no white people, Black, brown or any other color. Just teary-eyed Americans as we proudly stood together to honor our pledge to bring liberty and justice for all.

On 9/11 the United States suffered the worst attack in our history, killing nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens. Our nation mourned and was traumatized by this horrible event and desperately needed hope. 

Among that chaos and rubble there arose three New York City firefighters who raised the American flag, which inspired the entire world that when attacked, America truly is indivisible!

This pledge has been recited by untold millions of school children over the years. 

The flag has been draped in honor over the coffins of our fallen soldiers, and lowered to half staff in times of national sorrow. 

And yes, evil people have betrayed our pledge to deny liberty and justice for some, to the shame of our great nation.

But America has never stopped trying to live up to our pledge, even in these turbulent times of 2020. No other country since the dawn of time has tried harder, given more, or sacrificed greater to rise to the level of our sacred pledge.

Kneel if you must, but I’ll proudly stand with the legion of Americans to make sure that star-spangled banner yet waves over the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

Happy Fourth of July!

Gil Mertz is a Thousand Oaks resident and former Santa Clarita Valley resident who worked for Help the Children in Valencia for 20 years.

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