It was Memorial Day, 1984, and for some reason it seemed important to my husband and me that we fly a flag on the day which honors America’s fallen soldiers. We had been living in our house for six months, obtaining a flag for the pole out front was low on the list of things to do. But on that morning I remembered we did indeed have a flag, a huge one that would be perfect. It was given to me by my father and laid at rest under sweaters and quilts at the bottom of my cedar chest for over a decade.
The flag had actually belonged to my father’s mother, presented to her graveside, folded and tucked into it’s perfect triangle, after being ceremonially removed from my grandfather’s casket in 1949. I was a year and one day old when Pop died. The flag had never been unfolded since.
At first I thought using Pop’s flag might be disrespectful. But I checked with a friend who knew about such things and he said flying the flag would be an honorable thing to do.
William Oliver Munn, ‘Pop’, had been a doughboy, in the war to end all wars. Miraculously he returned home unscathed to raise a family. Each of his three sons served in WWII, by then wars were being given numbers.
So it was on that Memorial Day morning I called my eighty-five year old grandmother and told her we were to hoist pop’s flag.
“Take pictures,” she said. Her voice cracked.
We unfolded the flag carefully so as not to touch the ground with it and clipped it to the line. I stood back, camera in hand, ready to capture on film the touching moment for my grandmother. Slowly my husband pulled the line, raising the flag with its 48 stars, to the top of the pole. Then, as we were told to do, we lowered it to half mast until noon.
It was a warm and windless Memorial Day. I wanted to see the flag fly, but it lay limp against the pole. I raised the camera and spoke to my grandfather for the first time, “How about a breeze pop?” And, as if his hand had swept across the sky, the trees rustled. The flag unfurled.
I snapped one picture, then set the camera aside, overcome by the moment. I am as convinced now as I was then that Pop heard me, and for a moment blew the breath of life into the folds of the cloth that had covered him in death.
The breeze diminished, the flag rested at peace until noon, when it was raised to the top of the pole. It is a beautiful flag, Old Glory, a special flag that came to life in honor of an old soldier after being buried at the bottom of a cedar chest.
On this Memorial Day we are flying Pop’s flag again. Over the years we’ve flown it many times and when, as the song says, the ‘day is done’ we fold it into a triangle and place it back in the cedar chest with the flags of my father, Robert Munn Sr., Navy, WWII - my Uncle, Walter Allen Munn, Army, WWII - and my father-in-law, Guido Pianta, Army WWII. Sadly, too many flags to choose from now.
But, this day is not only about a collection of flags that have draped the dead. As noble and as honorable as that is, Memorial Day, as my husband’s cousin said, is not only about those below the ground but about those above the ground as well.
On this day and every day, let us honor that.