Draped by the flag

By Paul Schmitt

Few would have predicted that a bagpipe-playing Catholic priest would in so few words pen out a receipt for the American people – the debt owed to a stoic, honored few in our bloodied history.

A former marine, Fr. Dennis Edward O’Brien wrote:

“It is the Soldier, not the reporter,

who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet,

who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer,

who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer,

who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, who salutes the flag,

who serves beneath the flag,

and whose coffin is draped by the flag,

who allows the protestor to burn the flag.”

As we busied about Monday, walking from class to class, sleeping through our lectures and taking note of things to “Facebook” later, few of us would think of the few brave men who scaled the cliffs at Pointe Du Hoc, fixed bayonets in Korea, or even ate sand in Iraq. Few will recollect, truly, the sacrifices made generations before in their own families, let alone the blood shed by complete strangers.

Yet, were they strangers? No, they were Americans.

They were the woven of the same fabric as all of us, a unique thread of a belief in rule, law and liberty at the hem. They found solace in a variety of gods, identified with a plethora of ethnicities and voted for seats on both sides of the aisle. More than that, they found a cause worth doing their duty for, worth risking death for – unfortunately, it often didn’t end as a mere risk.

Duty is an odd phenomenon – men endangering themselves, being wounded, or dieing for something that they have been told is their responsibility. Certainly war and fulfilling one’s duty isn’t always glorious; quite the opposite. Even for those that don’t give their lives in the name of duty, however, the costs of doing one’s duty can still be great.

This was true for Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, the first aircraft to drop the atomic bomb. Tibbets, who finished his career as a brigadier general in the Air Force, was an Illinois native born in Quincy.

Upon his Nov. 1 death, the world learned that Tibbets requested that he have neither a funeral, nor a grave marker, for fear that his final resting place would serve as a draw for protesters. Brig. Gen. Tibbets did his duty, answered one of history’s toughest calls and had his death and cremation overshadowed by the loss of Lancelot, singer Robert Goulet.

True, those that have fought, shed and died are memorialized on the occasion of Memorial Day, too. However, when considering what exactly has been given up, does yesterday’s frenzy of regimented campus activity seem appropriate?

We on campus did manage to extend our weekend for a day of celebrating how hard we labor. Despite the fact that Monday’s observance of Veterans Day was both a federal and state holiday, things would be business as usual here on campus.

Veterans Day has come and passed: for many of us, we’re left asking exactly what it means.

While reverie on those great brave few can be a symbol of respect, it should, moreover, be a source of inspiration.

Having or canceling classes is irrelevant when we take the time to ask what exactly our duty to those fallen heroes is. Perhaps it is nothing more than to enjoy the freedoms that we’ve been afforded by their blood – to watchfully defend those American liberties.

In the words of Ronald Reagan, “We will always remember, we will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so that we may always be free.”