Tom Stangl

My sister was born on Flag Day. For years as a child, she believed our hometown put up the American flag on the light poles downtown to honor her birthday. I visited last week with someone who was born on Veterans Day. He had the same experience as a child.

With Veterans Day last week, I got to thinking about my experiences and feelings about the flag of our nation. As a baby boomer, born in 1961, my father served in the Army in World War II. He did what many veterans did after the war: he joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion. My mother was a member of the American Legion Auxiliary. My brothers and I joined the Cub Scouts.

I learned much of what I know about the American flag through my experiences with these organizations, directly and indirectly. I recall sitting in the yard of my aunt and uncle’s house one Memorial Day — I was maybe seven at the time. This was the time I learned to always stand for the flag when it came by. I stood because my mother told me the lady carrying the flag was in the auxiliary and if I did not stand, the lady would beat me with the flag and I would disgrace my parents.

Yes, I flew to my feet. No cap to take off, but I did manage to place my hand on my heart. No beating with the symbol of freedom on this day, no dishonor to my family name.

I learned the American flag needs to be above other flags on a pole or in a display. I also learned the flag should not be flown at night, unless it is properly lit. I also learned a flag needed to be replaced when it became tattered and torn. The damaged American flag needs to be disposed of properly by organizations like the American Legion so it may be given its due respect.

I learned the flag is a powerful symbol, something that represents the freedom and promise of America. I learned the flag is above politics and petty squabbles. Much like the Statue of Liberty, the flag represents the idea of America, a place where people of all faiths, backgrounds and ethnicities can come together for freedom.

I learned that true Americans understood these truths about the flag, the symbol of our nation.

While in high school, I wanted to attend Boys State, a week-long event sponsored by the American Legion. I had to give a short address about the flag to the committee who would decide if I went to Boys State. I thought it would be a piece of cake.

I was wrong. In those days, I thought I would be able to simply “wing it” and be fine. Turns out between my nerves and the very weighty topic, I managed to eek out a short speech about the flag being the symbol of the sacrifices others made so I could be there today. 

They let me go, probably because even though I was so nervous I could barely get the words out, even though I sincerely believed every word.

I encourage everyone to consider how we treat the symbol of our nation.

As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.


Thanks for reading. I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same. 

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