Grains of sand whipped his face, a sting preferable to that of the lead that felled his brothers. The bodies of boys around him baked in the fierce Carolina sun; their black faces contorted in grotesque masks of death. Innocent lives to the plantation borne, willing to die for the cause of the tattered colors that flapped in the onshore breeze. Regarding those red and white stripes, those not-yet-fifty stars, he summoned the courage to advance, hoping that his efforts, his likely martyrdom, would not be in vain. To see his kin freed from the yoke of tyrannical slavery was worth any price.
If he craned his neck in just the right way, he could glimpse the majesty of the red, white, and blue spotlit against the midnight sky. He paced his cell, as he did nightly to work through the rage and frustration. Born on this soil, he was betrayed by the country that labeled him a traitor simply because of his yellow skin. Pearl Harbor was the tragedy of his nation, of his flag that flew over the camp in which he was now interred. He longed to avenge the Emperor’s attack, had been among the first to volunteer. Regarded as an enemy combatant, he was instead arrested, paraded through the streets of the town in which he was raised, stood now helplessly wasting. And yet, seeing that flag gave him a perhaps foolish hope in the ultimate victory of freedom.
She stepped off the bus into the teeming and colorful throngs. With a military lineage that stretched to the Revolution and a knack with a rifle that would make a sniper blush, she was no stranger to the glorious necessity of warfare. Accustomed to seeing the flag fly over the army bases between which she was shuttled as a kid, today she wore Old Glory as a cape, ensconced in its virtues. Informed by this emblem and of the notions of which it was emblematic, she also carried a placard that stated her peaceful opposition to the conflict incinerating Southeast Asia. Her protests earned her the scorn of family and compatriots, but her dissent was the apotheosis of her citizenship. To question that which she loved was the ultimate luxury. She understood the impetus to burn the flag as an extreme form of expression, but she chose to embrace the banner of her patrimony, to stick by it in troubled times, to be an exemplar of the values sewn into its fabric.
Rendered mute by the end of his mortal existence, he could not properly express his gratitude at being enshrouded in the flag under which he had fought and died. The colors on his platoon mate’s sleeve were the last thing he saw before their Humvee exploded on the road to Kandahar. Now he listed intently as the imam extolled the irony of the differences between the violence of his death and the peace of his faith. He felt the eyes of his mother upon his flag-draped casket, burka-clad and grief-stricken. She, like all mothers, wept at his deployment, but nonetheless understood his dedication to defending the ideals of her adopted country. Presented with the triangulated red, white, and blue, her cries of anguish wrenched his no-longer-beating heart. Her posture, defiant in the face of horrible loss, signaled to him her pride at his stand against extremism of any stripe. She clasped the flag as she had once hugged him, and smiled.