Humans aren’t the only creatures on earth who raise families, make war or use tools, but they seem to be the only ones who imbue objects with a shared, deep meaning.
Some objects, such as flags, can symbolize a group’s ideals and foster a sense of togetherness, common purpose and connection to the past. This form of reverence will be on display today at the Heart O’ the Hills Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Kerrville, when locals will observe Flag Day and hold a brief U.S. flag retirement ceremony.
Residents are invited to drop off worn U.S. flags anytime before 6 p.m. at the VFW post, 220 Thompson Drive. At 6 p.m. the short ceremony will commence, and all flags will be disposed of according to the customs of the nation.
“It’s not a celebration,” said VFW Post Commander Jerry Dean Henwood. “It’s a solemn ceremony, and we’ve got several flags that we want to retire.”
Residents may observe the flags being ceremoniously burned, or they may place the flags in the flames themselves.
“It’s very simple,” said Henwood, a Vietnam War veteran who served as a Navy communications technician for four years.
Henwood was at the VFW post on Thursday along with VFW post adjutant Bill Allen. They’ll be involved in today’s flag retirement ceremony. Allen was a historian for the U.S. Air Force for 21 years.
“There are a lot of folks who followed that flag to their deaths,” said Allen.
He noted that many Congressional Medal of Honor recipients during the U.S. Civil War were flag bearers.
“So it’s a flag that we fight under as a veterans organization, and we respect it that way because it’s something that applies to all of us,” Allen said. “It’s a symbol of who and what we’re fighting for.”
Besides holding the flag retirement ceremony every June 14 in observance of Flag Day, members of the VFW post visit local elementary schools — usually near Memorial Day — to explain the importance of the national symbol. Henwood said the kids seem receptive.
But that’s not necessarily true elsewhere, indicated Allen. He spent a lot of time around school kids as a military historian in San Antonio.
“There’s a big difference between a big city and out here,” said Allen, who also served 21 more years in civil service in the same role. He’s a veteran of Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti.
“When I was young, you respected the flag, you respected what it stood for, you respected the soldiers, sailors and airmen that fought for this country,” Henwood said. “Now they seem to have lost that.”
For Henwood, Allen and other members of the VFW post, the U.S. flag is nothing short of a symbol that helps maintain civilization. A nation that loses respect for its flag and forgets its values and its history is in trouble, the men said.
Henwood said America could end up like a Third-World country unless the nation’s values are maintained.
The men agreed that among other things, the flag symbolizes the kind of liberty that lets people seize opportunities in life, leading to greater prosperity for all.
“You could either make what you want to make of yourself or not — it’s there whether you take advantage of it or not,” Henwood said. “It’s entirely up to you. Prosperity is whenever you’ve reached that goal because of liberty. ... You can basically do what you want to in this country.”
American patriotism may be at a record low. Only 47 percent of U.S. respondents to a 2018, Gallup survey said they were extremely proud to be Americans — the lowest percentage tracked by Gallup. Those who said they were very proud made up 25 percent, 7 percent said they were a little proud and 3 percent said they were not at all proud.
The survey consisted of 1,520 telephone interviews conducted for all 50 states from June 1 to 13, 2018.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center poll, just 34 percent of Americans said they have a “very great” or a “good” deal of trust and confidence in the political wisdom of the American people. Those who had “not very much” confidence or “no confidence at all” comprised 63 percent of respondents.
“If you cannot believe in America, there’s not much you can believe in,” Allen said.
Although Henwood and Allen expressed some pessimism about the nation, they said there’s hope, especially when they see the patriotism of some of the younger locals, such as members of Tivy High School’s Junior ROTC program.
“The Tivy Hgh School had their Junior ROTC awards ceremony in April, and it was awesome,” Allen said. “Us and some other veterans organizations gave out awards to these young kids, and I was amazed at these guys.”