Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Flag at Notre Dame

I got to fold the flag after it was lowered on the Quad of the University of Notre Dame at dusk on Friday. It was an unexpected part of my Walter Mitty-ish adventure weekend.

I travelled to South Bend to attend my friend's CD release party, and arrived early. Of course, I had to take some pictures on the beautiful campus of Notre Dame. While I am not Catholic, I admire Catholic architecture a great deal - and was not disappointed. Awe inspiring.

As I was walking along the Quad, I saw a man lowering the flag. I immediately stopped in my tracks, and observed the act with respect, as I had each evening in my Air Force days. I could hear Taps playing in my head, and had a meaningful moment. I was the only one who did, as the few students out on the Quad went about their travels seemingly oblivious. The man was struggling to keep the flag from touching the ground in the deep snow. I struck up a conversation with him, and thanked him for his service at the flagpole. He said that he had called a supervisor to come help him fold it. I said "You have a veteran standing right here who will help you fold it", and he took me up on my offer. One student did stop to help at that point - mentioning that he had been an Eagle Scout. We got the job done, and went on our way.

I never paid attention to a flag lowering ceremony when I was a student on a college campus either. I didn't until I left school and entered the Air Force. It always stops me in my tracks now. It reminded me of a story that I read in Robert Gates' memoir "Duty" last week:

After Gates left government service, he served as President of Texas A&M university for 6 years. He loved that job, and loved the student body. He didn't want to leave that job and go back to government. But, we had two wars in progress and President Bush asked him to, so he did his duty. He often visited with the troops in the war zones and on their bases. Now and then he would see a soldier in the war zones that he had handed a diploma to at A&M.

One thing that struck Gates was the disconnect between seeing students walking around campus with shorts, sandals, and backpacks, and then later seeing kids the same age in our war zones in full battle gear carrying assault rifles going through extreme sacrifice, injury, and death. That disconnect rattled him deeply.

I had a shadow of that disconnect as I stood at attention on the Quad of Notre Dame observing the flag lowering as students with their heads down and iPods in walked obliviously around me. Wake up, young people. Show some respect. That flag has costs.    

Saying a prayer this morning for our men and women in military service, wherever they are.

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