On this day, we Americans honor those who have worn the cloth of our country. On this day, I honor the faith, courage, and citizenship of my wife, who has taught her Navy Veteran husband a thing or two about all three (on which more below).
On Veteran’s Day, I pray that Americans do not honor indiscriminately, but that, as is only proper, we bestow our highest honor and gratitude more narrowly on those who, having quite deliberately counted the cost of their life’s blood, have weighed it against both the doubt and the hope that this blood will somehow serve to purchase Liberty under Law in earth’s last best hope, and have paid it.
In honor of these men, our family flies today my wife’s Citizenship Flag, the large, heavy cotton, casket flag that I presented to her on the day when she swore the oath of citizenship, and so joined me in that ever-doubtful, ever-hopeful, American endeavor to secure one free country on earth.
Five days before my wife swore that oath, I had flown this flag over St. John’s Church in Richmond, as historical players within re-enacted on its anniversary the Second Virginia Convention of 1775, with Patrick Henry’s ringing challenge to the standard of Liberty or Death.
The flag would fly above the State Capitol dome as my wife swore the oath beneath.
My wife’s swearing-in was far from thoughtless. It was here that she taught me the meaning of faith, courage, and citizenship. She understood well that this country, to which she was deliberately joining her honor, had long ceased to be free. But she understood, too, that it might yet be free again, and that such was the will of Heaven. She understood clearly that those glorious truths, to which Americans had unflinchingly made themselves accountable in 1776, together with the Constitution that they had adopted in 1787 and 1788, still condemned just as unequivocally as ever the many sad particulars of America’s present unfreedom. And so she “[took] this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,” determined, “so help me God,” to act with faith and courage the role of a citizen in earth’s last, best hope.
Deeply touched by the presentation of the flag and where it had flown, my wife determined to seek out future occasions to gather glory to her Citizenship Flag, until it should be draped over her casket someday. On our anniversary, we flew it over Frederick Douglass’ house in Anacostia, MD. We flew it over USS CONSTITUTION on her annual Constitution Day Sail, the day after I had retired on the ship’s decks from 30 years’ Navy service. As we left Virginia for the Rockies, we first drove to Independence Hall to drape it over the rail of the room in which both Declaration and Constitution were signed. We stopped in Springfield, Illinois, to fly it over Abraham Lincoln’s House. Each of these acts was an act of faith and courage in that ever-doubtful, ever-hopeful, American endeavor to secure one free country on earth. May God reward such faith and courage. May He grant that our country may endure, to yet flower in Liberty under Law.
As I but incidentally honor my wife’s faith and courage this day, we both, with millions of fellow Americans, honor primarily the greater faith and courage of thousands of better men than I who wore the cloth of our country before me. In that greater faith and courage, they counted the cost of their life’s last blood, weighed it out against that ever-doubtful, ever-hopeful, prospect of a free country, and paid it. May God reward such faith and courage.