There’s been a lot of talk and debate recently about flags, especially the flags flying outside the homes of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

It got me thinking about these important and visible symbols. We see them everywhere and probably take a lot of them for granted.

I like people who fly flags.

What type of flag you fly matters, of course, but it’s been my experience that there are more good people who fly good flags than bad people who fly bad ones.

You can never go wrong with flying Old Glory.

My parents had a three-by five-foot cloth American flag that we flew on key holidays – Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Veterans Day. During the 1984 Summer Olympics, I suggested to my dad that we fly the flag each day the United States won a Gold Medal. You might remember American athletes dominated the games that summer in Los Angeles, winning 174 medals overall – 83 of which were gold.

We never took the flag down for the whole two weeks. In fact, my father had to go into our boxes of Christmas decorations to pull out the floodlight he used to light our wreath on the front door. We thought it was special to have our flag in New York illuminated all thru the night to honor American athletes in Los Angeles.

In the eighth grade, I was chosen to raise, lower and fold the American flag at our school each day with my friend David Ventimiglia. It was a high honor. After college, I surprised my parents by installing a large flagpole on our front lawn. They originally thought it was a bit much, but came to love it for both patriotic and practical purposes. Giving directions to friends is a lot easier when you say, “It’s the house with the tall flagpole on the lawn.”

My grade school gym teacher and friend Russ Josephs earned the nickname “The Flag Man” for hosting what he called the “Motivation Station” at the Long Island Marathon each year. There he would stand at Mile 20, hoisting high the Stars and Stripes. When a group of us ran a 50-mile relay, Russ suggested we run holding the American flag, which we did.

Flying the American flag became a lot more popular after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Instead of flying it only on holidays, a lot of people began flying it every day.

Critics of Justice Alito are upset because the jurist’s wife flew the American flag upside down in response to a harassing and obnoxious neighbor – and hoisted another historic flag that General George Washington popularized during the Revolutionary War.

I think one of the many reasons I like people who fly flags is because the act tends to reflect a degree of creativity and appreciation of history on behalf of the person flying it. Prior to the flap over the “Pinetree” or “Appeal to Heaven” flag, few probably knew its origins or connection to John Locke, the Christian philosopher who played such a significant role in the Enlightenment.

Flags can teach or communicate loyalty, whether to a state, a cause, a college or even a team. One of our neighbors flies a Notre Dame flag from time to time, and another the “Don’t Tread on Me” banner, which, like the “Pinetree” flag, dates to the Civil War. We’ve also seen Denver Bronco flags back when they were winning.

My friend Russ flies more than the American flag. If you were to step inside his rustic cabin in Maine, you’d see a large blue banner hung on the railing of the sleeping loft overlooking the living room. It contains the phrase, “Don’t Give Up the Ship” – the longtime Naval rallying cry. Those were the last words of Navy Captain James Lawrence who was fatally wounded while commanding the USS Chesapeake during the War of 1812.

As the country rocks and roils in the coming months, those inspirational and famous words may take on new importance.


Image credit: Paul Batura