I am just in from the lake (Lavon, near Dallas) and a great afternoon/evening of fishing, boating, skiing, tubing and eating at the (floating) Harbor House Restaurant with our boat tied up in one of their slips. Throughout the afternoon we marveled at the weather, the water, the view, the boat, the pleasure of enjoying America and our incredible bounty of freedom. We noticed many American flags, and Texas flags and flags of various universities on boats and on slips and we appreciated that it is the 2nd of July, Thursday and many are just warming up to the big Independence Day weekend.
For many it will just be a long weekend, with an extra day off – bonus time for Miller Lites and Margaritas and golf and fishing. But I like to think that most of us appreciate the Four of July, Independence Day, America, Freedom and those who fought the hard fight that America might actually be. God bless them. And as we relax and gather and enjoy, we think of, appreciate, even revere those who sacrificed that we could be so darn lucky, fortunate, blessed, whatever.
So here we are in America. Whatever else God has done for you, probably nothing short of life itself (or health) remotely compares to the good fortune of being/living in the USA. Really.
On the actual Four of July we will go to the Square which is historic downtown McKinney, Texas for the parade. Because of the China Virus it will, for the first time, be a reverse parade. That’s where the floats are on the sideline and the spectators are in the cars/trucks driving through. After the parade there will be a trip to the cemetery and then home for burgers and brats and swimming and Miller Lites. And we will have our own little patriotic program.
It was a million years ago, my youth, at age five, when I went to my first Fourth of July parade in, you guessed it, McKinney, Texas. After a million years, I am back home, just down the figurative road from the McKinney Square. What I remember is the McKinney Lions High School Band playing, or attempting to play John Philip Sousa’s marches, convertible cars with pretty girls waving, and a flatbed truck with cuties throwing mini-loaves of Mrs. Baird’s Bread to us. That was my absolute favorite – a mini-loaf of Mrs. Baird’s Bread, what a prize. We would take it home, cut it up, butter it up or toast it up and eat it all. Heaven. Really.
I also remember my dad that day. As an aside, he was a local legend. McKinney High star in football, basketball, baseball, tennis and (marginally) track. In track he was only a letterman, in the others he was actually a star. And had gone on to be a star in college in football and baseball. I must add that he was also a war hero. Fighter pilot (P-51) WWII and Korea. Really.
But that day he was just my dad. I remember when Old Glory was marched by he abruptly stopped whatever he was doing and assumed a rigid attention position and snapped a firm salute as the flag passed by.
Later in life, I did the exact same thing. It’s simple – we knew too many comrades-in-arms who had died protecting that flag. We respected it and them. We honored it and them. Emotionally, that special flag brought us to our knees. But we didn’t kneel. We rose. We stood as tall as we could. In respect. In honor. In humility. On guard.
Now back to that day in McKinney. After the parade, back at the house, my dad said to me, “if you don’t get chills when the flag passes by, you just don’t understand what it means.” I said, “what does it mean?” He said, “it means freedom, it means America, it means many soldiers and patriots have died so that you may stand here, free.” I got it. I still get it.
I love the Fourth. I love Memorial Day. I love Veteran’s Day. I love America. I love the part in all the ceremonies when they ask me and my comrades-in-arms to stand if we have served in our America’s armed forces. It brings tears to my eyes. I am honored to be in that fraternity of those who can stand and declare: I served. By God I served. And by the grace of God, I came home alive. I stand here to honor those who did not.
And in McKinney, when the parade is over, and I have saluted the flag many times, I get in the car and go to Pecan Grove Cemetery (also in McKinney). And for a few minutes that is full of emotion, and history, and reverence I stand at the grave of Robert A. Forte’, 1916-1965, Lt. Col. USAF, WWII and Korea. And I talk to the old P-51 fighter pilot about his planes and my planes and the heroes we knew. And I say a prayer for them. And for him. And for me.
And I get chills. And then I snap to attention and salute him and the American flag by his headstone.
And then I call it a day. I get in the car, wipe my tears away and drive the few miles home.