The Flags of Memorial Day

From a distance, it looks like a tabletop covered with sheets of artificial turf, featuring squares of green plastic and mats of textured, sage-colored brush and blades of synthetic grass. From above, before you leave the mountaintop and follow a river of asphalt that empties into a sea of highway, you can see neither rows of crosses nor fields where poppies blow. From here, the wooden poles look like stalks of wheat with spikes of gold, swaying instead of snapping against the wind.

The white reflects the sun, the blue blends with the sky and ocean, and the red turns the clouds pink like cotton candy—until you see the truth. Thousands of miniature flags pierce the soil, in front of flat markers of marble and granite, where so little tells us so much about the dead. The years evoke the battles, from Antietam to Anzio, from Gettysburg to Guam, from Korea to Khe Sanh, from the charge of San Juan Hill to the fight to save Saigon.

The flags tell us even more. Some are cotton and others are silk, but all feel smooth and look solemn. They are sacred objects, not because of the blessings of a pastor or priest, but because they represent the Blessings of Liberty.

They symbolize the price of freedom, purchased with the blood of patriots and perpetuated by the lifeblood of a vigilant people. They symbolize the greatness of America and the goodness of my fellow Americans, because no decree is necessary for decency to take root.

The people come of their own volition. They are fathers and sons, and scouts and scoutmasters. They kneel with pride and lower their heads in prayer, as they plant a flag before every grave.

They work day and night to give proof through the night that the flags are still there.

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Photo credit: VOA/UIG via Getty Images

About Ashley Hamilton

Ashley Hamilton is an artist and father, who lives in Malibu and seeks to express the truth through his work.

Photo: People walk through 20,000 American Flags that are displayed for every resident of Massachusetts who died in a war over the past 100 years, Boston Common, Boston, MA, Memorial Day, 2012. (Photo by: VOA/UIG via Getty Images)

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