thinking of my dad today….this essay is from the archives
My father died six days after the eleventh of September, 2001, and he was well enough for most of those days to glimpse the television, which for some horrible reason they encouraged him to watch. He couldn’t speak—first, they thought, because of a breathing tube, but once it was removed, they realized he couldn’t talk anyway, because he’d had a stroke. He was too weak to write. So he lay there in his bed, mute, watching the crisis unfold. No wonder his blood pressure went from dangerously low to normal.
My father was an Air Force Colonel and a World War Two veteran. He was at one time the youngest officer in the European Theater. He was a Republican his whole life. My father also never stopped learning, never closed his mind. A few days before he got sick he was at my house telling me about the book he was reading: Lies My Teacher Told Me. He had a list of three more books like that he wanted to read; he left the list with me at my request so I’d know what to buy him on whatever was the next occasion. My father respected Jerry Mander and hated the BIA. And the only things that disgusted him more than George W. Bush were the US Supreme Court and his own people for allowing a political coup without so much as a skirmish.
My father loved the American flag for what it represented for him: the history it accompanied in his memory. I wish I could have driven around with him after the eleventh, gotten his take on the reactionary epidemic of Old Glory on every antenna and windshield. If the past were any indication, my dad’s reaction would have been thoughtful and hard to put in a box.
When the military police escorted my family onto Fort Huachuca to bury my dad, we saw lots of flags. I wondered how many of them were there before the eleventh. When I sat under the awning in the military cemetery, staring at the six foot long cotton flag the honor guard had unfolded in front of the four of us—his immediate family, I saw for the first time ever an integrity my father saw. The breeze blew faintly and the bugle played “Taps”. The air still echoed from the three rallies of rifle-shot.
When the spokesman for the honor guard knelt on one knee and delivered to my mother my father’s flag, he thanked her on behalf of our nation for my father’s devotion to this country. The flag was perfectly folded, a tight, star-studded triangle, when he placed it in my mother’s hands. She nodded, tears of dignity and pride gracing her cheeks. My arm was around her.
As we headed out of the cemetery I wanted badly to ask something, felt that child-like fear of asking too much. In my little girl voice I ventured, “Mama, could I hold Daddy’s flag?” She turned and smiled. “I’d like nothing more,” she said, handing it to me. I cradled it tightly all the way home.