By: Homer Hirt
Recently I was honored to lead our Pledge of Allegiance at a local function. As I was preparing myself, I thought back to an incident that was related in Faith of My Fathers, the book written some years ago by Senator John S. McCain.
McCain told of Mike Christian, a fellow prisoner of war in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" camp in North Vietnam. Christian, the son of an Alabama sharecropper, who had not owned a pair of shoes until he was a teenager, enlisted in the U. S. Navy, became an officer and was, like McCain, shot down over enemy territory.
One day Christian began to collect scraps of red and white cloth wherever he could find them; some coming from Red Cross packages or other packages from home. Others he found lying on the ground. When he had enough of them, he turned his blue prisoner jacket inside out and laboriously stitched, using a splinter of wood for a needle, an American flag, The dark cloth of the coat provided the blue field, the scraps of white and red formed the stars and the stripes.
Each evening, after the guards left the prisoners alone in their Spartan cell, Mike Christian would turn his jacket inside out and all would salute and pledge allegiance to the Flag, some standing, others unable to rise from their rough beds.
Then came the inevitable discovery.
One night the guards burst into the room, seized the jacket and ripped it up, and carried Mike out. After some time passed, he was thrown back through the door, horribly beaten, his eyes swelled almost shut. Senator McCain related that Christian lay on the floor for a short time and then began crawling around, picking up scraps of cloth and thread.
When I stepped forward to lead in the Pledge, I thought about this story.
I realized that we could go to almost any store in the area and purchase a flag, and not pay more than a few dollars. And I knew that in many of our state and county offices someone would give us a flag with no questions asked.
Indeed, when a veteran dies, our own government provides a large flag to cover the casket and to be passed on to the next of kin as a memorial for the fallen soldier, sailor, marine or airman.
I knew that, on this day and on many others, we would, in free assembly, recite the words together.
For none of these actions do we have to fear being beaten.
We can repeat the words, if we wish to do so, in our homes or in public and do it safely and with feeling and meaning.
And, just as importantly, we do not have to take part in this ritual.
So, if you wish to do so, join with me in remembering Mike Christian by reciting:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag
Of the United States of America,
And to the Republic for which it stands;
One Nation under God,
With liberty and justice for all.