Flags will be flying this week and on into the weekend as Americans celebrate the nation’s independence. The Fourth of July Holiday — commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 — will wrap up in a soiree of fireworks traditionally saved for America’s birthday bash.
With the American flag waving so mightily — high above the barbecues, picnics, concerts and ball games this week — the red, white and blue symbol so commonly associated with freedom could itself get overlooked in the hoopla.
Retired Col. Jim Lee hopes that’s not the case.
“Freedom is such a precious thing. So many countries do not have it,” said Lee. “They can’t worship as they please. I really think the flag for us is a symbol worth fighting for. People lay their lives down for it; people carry it with them … the red for the blood that was shed, the purity of the white and the blue of the sea and the sky. Yes the flag means quite a bit to us as veterans.
“A lot of times, at ball games they may try to rush through (the National Anthem), but for a veteran who has been there, it brings goose bumps and tears. And part of that is because we reflect on things and the people we were with.”
Lee said that like the majority of Americans this week, he typically spends the time gathered with family and friends. He said that just being able to do that — having the freedom to spend the holiday the way he wants — is symbolic in itself.
“For me, I think it is a time to celebrate with family,” said Lee. “Family is so important. Think about the freedom that we have to get together, the freedom that we have to move around. It really becomes a holiday of getting family and friends together.
“I think the fireworks and the flags remind them that without those few soldiers who were fighting with the British, we wouldn’t have what we have today. We wouldn’t have the freedom to do what we do in America. What if (George) Washington had gotten frustrated and given up?”
Lee, a Vietnam Veteran from Fayetteville, was the most recent Memorial Day speaker in a long line of distinguished speakers at Moore County’s annual Memorial Day Service. Like many of his fellow veterans — and many in the crowd of close to 200 that he addressed back in May — Lee understands the price of freedom.
He fought in an unpopular war, one without the romanticism that people often associated with the Civil War, or the necessity that was rightfully associated with World War II.
“People were divided then. There were some who felt like we shouldn’t have been (in Vietnam),” said Lee, a Virginia native who was schooled in Mississippi. “That was the ’60s and the ’70s and the free love and flower power and Vietnam kinda got swept up in all that. To me, the worst thing that happened is that the people who served in Vietnam came back and had to tuck their tails when they came back because they didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t know if they were going to get spit upon.
“But there was a domino effect. We stopped communism (from spreading to) many of the countries that are now free.”
Lee said that he’s glad to see this generation of soldier, the newest group of veterans, treated with more reverence.
“It’s a relief. It’s changing now,” he said. “The military is more respected now and that’s good. If it weren’t for about 10 percent of our population who go into the military, we couldn’t enjoy the freedoms we have. There’s only a small (portion) of people who go into the military, but it’s a heavy load they carry.”
“It’s a relief to see the young troops come back now and be respected.”
— By ROBERT HOLMAN, MCN Editor