Burning the Flag

An Oration by Amanda Enstrom

"Burn the flag!" This was the cry that rang through the streets during the Vietnam War. Would this same cry have been used during the Revolutionary War? I think not. In fact, during the Revolution women cut up their best dresses to sew homemade Stars and Stripes. These people had pride for their country and their flag. It seems, times have changed since the Revolutionary War.

"Burn the flag!" How would Sergeant William Jasper have felt if he heard this cried out? Stationed at Fort Sullivan, Jasper and fellow soldiers had raised a flag called "Liberty or Death." To them, it was the "banner of American freedom." June 26, 1776 the fort was attacked by the British. It was hit by a cannonball which knocked the flag outside of the parapet. Seeing this, Jasper screamed to his comrades, "Don’t let us fight without a banner." He jumped down among the flying bullets and smoke from the cannonballs, the roar of the guns echoing in his ears. He must have felt excruciating fear but he put it aside and retrieved the flag. Jasper survived that night and having successfully rescued the flag, helped save the fort. He was offered a promotion but feeling unworthy since he could neither read nor write declined. Sergeant Jasper fought his last battle on October 9, 1779, the Assault on Savannah. This brave hero watched as three color bearers were killed by British soldiers. As the third one fell Jasper knew his duty. Perhaps it seemed like slow motion to him watching the third color bearer get shot. He probably ran towards the flag not thinking he’d make it, but he did. Jasper reached out and caught the flag keeping it from reaching the ground. For the second time in his life, Jasper had saved the "banner of American freedom." What was going through this man’s mind? Perhaps he was remembering George Washington’s proclamation: "We take the stars from heaven, the red from our Mother country, separating it by white stripes , thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing liberty." Whatever he was thinking was terminated in that second. But as he fell, he still clutched the flag. So ask yourselves now, how would William Jasper have felt if someone told him, "Burn the flag?"

I can only wish that my ancestor, Levi Bozarth, who fought in the Revolution was as brave as Sergeant Jasper because I believe Jasper is a model to all of us, as Americans. However, many things have happened since the Revolution. The flag which hundreds of thousands of Americans have died for has now been forgotten by many. People say that the sun never sets on the American flag, but in our own country people turn their backs to it, casting their shadows upon it.

As Americans we have been given the right of freedom of expression, but this right should not extend to sedition. Why should other countries respect our flag if we do not? When will the sun rise on the American flag here in America? When will we truly say in the words of Hal Riney, "It’s morning again in America!?" Will it be when we realize that in order for the sun to rise in America, the light of patriotism must rise in our hearts?

"Burn the flag!" How would the loyal Americans who died at war whose coffins were covered by the flag feel if they heard those words? Jasper’s actions and the actions of all the others who contributed to the victory of the Revolution still effect us today. If no one had felt pride for our flag and if no one had fought to defend it as Jasper did, our flag may never have had the chance to proudly wave anywhere. When we burn the flag, we burn ourselves as Americans. If you feel something is unfair, fight for it as the Revolutionaries did but don’t destroy what makes us who we are. Written in 1920, Warren G. Harding’s words still hold true, "America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; . . . not revolution, but restoration." Restore the patriotism. When you say the Pledge of Allegiance, don’t merely repeat memorized words but let them fill your heart and move you. Let the cries of agony and the footsteps of the American revolutionaries tread upon your soul and feel their pain when you hear the ignorant words, "Burn the flag."


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1996 Amanda Enstrom. Reprinted with the permission of the author.